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Business Center Gets Growing in San Andreas

Office spaces will be available via reservation for business owners who do not have professional space but need to schedule meetings with clients. Temporary retail spaces could be available to sublease while owners search for ideal spaces elsewhere within the county. These opportunities and resources ranging from resume assistance to insight on how to obtain a business loan will be accessible within steps of one another.

The perks of the Calaveras Business Resource Center, scheduled to open Thursday, are extensive, Staci Johnston, executive director of the Calaveras County Chamber of Commerce, explained Monday. The center will be a one-stop shop for all entrepreneurs in the county, she said. It will provide resources for those looking to start businesses or locate work, as well as providing expertise for those looking to take the “next step” as entrepreneurs.

Johnston said the resource center, situated inside the historic and recently renovated Huberty building, also houses Mother Lode Job Training, which assists those less experienced in the business sphere.

“They’re an employment and career center,” Johnston said. “They provide services to employers and job seekers. … The programs they have in play really benefit the employers who are looking for a certain skillset in an employee, as well as an employee who possesses a skillset.”

For those with experience who need technical training, Johnston said retired professionals would be available to share expertise through the resource center.

Michelle Stephens, a business outreach specialist, will also work out of the resource center two and a half days per week. Johnston said Stephens acts as an expert resource to connect entrepreneurs with the resources they seek to succeed.

“She’s basically a liaison between the county (and) county processes. If a business and a business owner come in, she can help,” Johnston said. “And not just to attract business; she’s here to support existing businesses and small businesses.”

The concept for the resource center was the result of a project developed by the 2015 Calaveras County Leadership program that identified economic development and recovery as weaknesses within the county following the Butte Fire. It was inspired by a similar concept by former Calaveras County District 1 Supervisor Cliff Edson, who proposed an increase of office and retail space in the county seat. Johnston said the idea went dormant for a while after Edson suggested it, but it was resurrected.

“He had a vision basically for a one-stop shop, so to speak here; it would be just retail space,” she said “The offices would all be rented out.”

The scope of the project expanded to its current form when the chamber, in partnership with two other entities, was awarded a $250,000 two-year federal grant last spring from the Economic Development Administration.

Throughout the duration of the grant, Mark Ksenzulak, the treasurer for the chamber and co-chairman with Johnston of the resource center, says the center will have a quota of businesses in the area to assist and help create jobs.

Though the financial assistance comes as what Johnston says is the largest grant the chamber has ever received, Ksenzulak said the resource center would have occurred without it; it just would have been more modest. It would have relied heavily on volunteers and would not have been able to assist as many individuals, he added.

Extensive renovations were required at the Huberty building to prepare for its use, Johnston said. She said a lot of furniture was left behind and the walls needed to be repainted. The task took six months to complete. Inmate crews from the Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office provided much of the manpower.

The Huberty building, which had sat vacant for more than two years, was leased to the Calaveras County Chamber of Commerce in April 2016 for $1 per year until April 2018.

The goal is to continue to operate the business resource center beyond two years. To do that, Ksenzulak said more operating funds would be required. He said efforts to secure additional funding are ongoing.

“We didn’t just want a two-year project,” he said. “We have some avenues we’re working on. We’re doing work to make sure we are sustainable. Our ultimate goal is to have service ongoing to be here for the business community long term.”

By Jason Cowan Apr 13, 2017



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