BUSINESS FACILITATION GROUP CELEBRATES ITS FIRST YEAR
By Bill Rautenstrauch
For the Observer
Ernesto Sirolli was so choked with emotion he could hardly speak.
The man who has inspired thousands of entrepreneurs in Africa, Australia, Canada and the United States broke down in tears before a group of about 35 people gathered at the Community Connection building Sunday for Wallowa County Business Facilitations annual meeting and celebration.
How long has it been since we first came together? Three years? Sirolli asked. Then he fell silent, groping for more words. He was at a loss.
Finally he said, Thank you for believing me.
Italian-born Sirolli, the last speaker of the day, overcame his emotion long enough to praise the work of the board and the facilitator.
Because of you, the news is spreading, he said, adding, Theres nothing like putting wings to peoples passions. The only thing you need is to believe in people.
The local non-profit group which celebrated its first year of operation with the Sunday program, follows the Sirolli Institutes community-centered principles in its quest to help people develop business ideas. The organization provides free business guidance to anyone interested in making it on their own.
Our mission is to support Wallowa County citizens in bringing their business dreams to reality, board member Gail Hammack said.
Sirolli first came to Wallowa County in 1999, at the invitation of community activist Peter Donovan. Sirolli outlined a formula that included networking, team-building and free and confidential business coaching for people desiring to start or expand a business.
After that initial meeting, a local steering committee was formed. In February 2000, the group named itself Wallowa County Business Facilitation.
In August 2000 Sirolli returned to train board members, and in November, WCBF hired Myron Kirkpatrick full-time as a business facilitator. He began work in January 2001, with his salary funded by money raised by the all-volunteer board.
Kirkpatrick spoke Sunday, defining his role and giving some statistics on WCBF successes in his first year. He said he acts as a coach or a counselor, emphasizing threes areas of business development: production of goods or services, marketing, and financial planning. He added that under the Sirolli approach, clients are encouraged to network with other entrepreneurs, forming advantageous partnerships.
Ive never met anyone whos good in all three areas. It helps when you find someone whos good at doing the things you hate, he said.
He said neither he nor WCBF offers financing for business ventures.
My job is to help passionate people who voluntarily approach me about starting, expanding, or improving responses to an already-established business. But I dont do economic development. I dont carry around a bag of grant and loan money for people who need it, he said.
Kirkpatrick said there has been plenty of demand for his services, since 22 percent of the Wallowa County workforce is self-employed. He said he served more than 150 clients the first year, half of them women or businesses that included a woman owner.
Kirkpatrick said the group was involved with clients who either opened, acquired or continued operation of seven businesses, and three others who expanded an existing business. WCBF worked to improve 68 existing businesses employing about 240 people.
Bronze Antler Bed and Breakfast of Joseph was one of three success stories presented. Heather Tyreman, co-owner with her husband, Bill Finney, said the help she received from Kirkpatrick put us in touch with marketing people. We needed help on bookkeeping. He recommended some good software, and steered us toward bookkeeping people in the community, she said.
Bronze Antler opened in June and in its first six months of operation made $27,000. It has run at between 65 percent to 80 percent of capacity since opening.
Janelle Stewart of Stewart Springs and Jack Walker of Executive Tree Care were other speakers.
Stewart, formerly of Washington, D.C., runs a computer-assisted drafting business. She started alone in her basement but since has developed to the point where she has hired two people and is training another.
Myron has always had a calming effect on the business. And when I think of what I would have had to pay for a financial consultant, it blows my mind, Stewart said.
Walker said when he started his tree-care business, he knew what the market would bear in a big city but had no idea of what he should charge for his services in Wallowa County.
Myron helped us a lot with profit and loss, what to charge, he said. "I probably would have done it (gone into business) even if I hadnt met him, but I think it would have been hard knocks for the rest of my life.