Small Businesses Making Big Impact in Southeast Missouri


80 New Businesses, 138 Jobs Created as Result of Entrepreneurial Initiative


Feb. 23, 2006 – From daycares to heating and cooling businesses, and from beauty salons to photography studios, entrepreneurs have surged to the head of their class in Southeast Missouri.

In fact, entrepreneurs participating in the Operation Bootstrap Project over the last three years defied all odds, with 80 new businesses being successfully launched from 204 people who participated in the program.

“That’s 39 percent, or greater than one in three participants” who are now operating their own businesses here in Southeast Missouri as a result of this program, said Bill Vickery, director of entrepreneurship and training in Southeast Missouri State University’s Innovation Center.

In 2002, the Small Business Development Center at Southeast Missouri State University entered into a three-year collaborative agreement with East Missouri Action Agency of Park Hills, Mo., to develop and deliver entrepreneurial training for their Operation Bootstrap Project in Bollinger, Cape Girardeau, Iron, Madison, Perry, St. Francois, Ste. Genevieve and Washington counties. The goal of the program was to create at least 70 full-time jobs among low-income individuals, recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and single parents.

Because entrepreneurs from low-income groups generally have difficulty infusing capital to start a new small business, the program offered a grant opportunity of up to $5,500 for start-up costs. The grants were awarded to participants who successfully completed the designated entrepreneurial course, submitted a business plan created during the course and received approval of their business plan from an independent committee including bankers and local business people.

Of the 204 who participated in the coursework under the Operation Bootstrap Project, 175 completed the training, Vickery said.  “That is 86 percent compared to an average completion rate of 48 percent when programs offer no incentive,” he said.

State Sen. Kevin Engler, whose 3rd Senatorial District encompasses much of the area served by the Operation Bootstrap Project, said, the program has “given opportunity to people with an entrepreneurial spirit and has created jobs for our whole region.”

Sixty-one percent of those completing the entrepreneurial training submitted business plans, and 77 percent of those earned grants. A staggering 95 percent of the new businesses started were still in operation after two years, Vickery said, versus the national average of an approximate 55 percent survival rate after the same time period.

“This destroys the economic models around the country,” said Dennis Roedemeier, director of the Southeast Missouri State University Innovation Center.

“The fact that this program has helped lower that failure rate is astounding,” Engler added.

Richard Lyons of Cadet, Mo., was an Operation Bootstrap participant who launched Cub Heating & Cooling.

“It’s easy to have an idea, but it’s hard to turn it into an actual business,” he said.

Lyons had extensive training in the heating and cooling field and has his EPA certification. However, as with many entrepreneurs, he possessed the technical skills but lacked the operational, management and planning skills of business ownership. He and his wife enrolled in the First Step FastTrac Entrepreneurial Training with hopes of making their dreams come true.

“This class provided us with information and the ‘tools’ necessary to determine the feasibility of our idea,” Lyons said. “We still use some of the templates provided in the training. We are truly blessed to have had the opportunity to participate in such a fine program and would recommend it to anyone who is considering starting a business.”

Cindy Merx of Potosi, Mo., participated in Operation Bootstrap and opened Sweet Memories Sandwich Shop in Potosi. She has been in business for more than three years with her sandwich and dessert shop. She also does catering.

“This class is a wake-up call for those thinking about starting a business,” Merx said. “Planning is vital if you want to succeed in the business world, and this class prepares you to take that next step.”

Trina McGill, of Farmington, Mo., opened Trendy Traditions Jewelry more than two years ago.

“Starting your own business can be scary, but going into it with the knowledge I obtained from this class, gave me the confidence to go forward with my dream,” she said.

Vickery said most the business launched as a result of this program “are not flashy companies. But they hire people and have people working for them. It’s progress. These are some folks who have taken some control over their destiny. They are building something they might be able to pass on to their children.”

Vickery says the First Step FastTrac Entrepreneurial Training is not an intimidating course.

“It’s a course they can understand, but it still takes a real commitment from these people,” he said. “The thing that doesn’t show up in the statistics,” Vickery said, “is the self-confidence and self esteem” the participants gain through the course. “They learn to network with people out in the community.”Roedemeier said, “Nothing will burst your bubble faster than trying to go into business. This program provides people with a little bit of financial support and a lot of technical know-how.”

After all, Roedemeier said, “Great ideas happen one at a time.”

The Entrepreneurial Resource Center at Southeast spearheaded the entrepreneurial training, delivering nine courses over three years, along with business plan coaching and partial program funding. Vickery led the training using the First Step FastTrac Program curriculum developed by the Kauffman Foundation. The course included material on development of a business concept, market analysis, pricing, cash flow and other areas critical to business success.

The volume of training provided by the Entrepreneurial Resource Center coupled with additional entrepreneurial trainings by the Center has elevated it to be the leading First Step FastTrac Kauffman trainer in rural America, Vickery said.

The goal of Operation Bootstrap was to create 70 jobs based on a $700,000 budget or $10,000 invested per job created. But, in actuality, the project created 138 jobs at a cost of just $5,073 per job.

Officials with Southeast’ Entrepreneurial Resource Center say the economic impact of the 138 jobs created by the project is significant and ongoing in the target area. Six new businesses were launched in Cape Girardeau County, four in Iron County, five in Madison County, four in Perry County, 35 in St. Francois County, five in Ste. Genevieve County and 21 in Washington County.

Officials say the small grant offered to participants for start-up expenses appears to be the  key factor leading to the success of these businesses. The possibility of some assistance with capital kept participants coming to classes and motivated to complete viable business plans in competition with their peers.

“The confidence that resulted from getting a small grant along with the knowledge and tools gained from classes encouraged and motivated entrepreneurs to start up and grow their new businesses,” Vickery said.

Piggybacking on the success of Operation Bootstrap, which ended in 2005, the Entrepreneurial Resource Center is launching the new Operation Jump-Start this month and next in Cape Girardeau, Park Hills, Sikeston and Dexter, Mo. Participants who successfully complete this free program and develop a business plan will be eligible to apply for a grant up to $5,000 to assist with business start-up expenses. Officials say the goal of this program is to engage 80 participants, start 25 businesses and create 40 jobs within 12 months of them completing their classes.

Operation Jump-Start is a training program offering a 12-session, 36-hour, comprehensive course using the same First Step Fast Trac curriculum used in the Operation Bootstrap course. The program is designed for people in the low to middle income range who are starting or expanding a small business. The course will give participants the opportunity to evaluate and test ideas in a safe and supportive environment.

Grants received by Southeast Missouri State University from the Delta Regional Authority, U.S. Department of Labor and the Missouri Division of Workforce Development in conjunction with Southeast’s Innovation Center are allowing participants to attend the sessions at no cost. For more information on the training call (573) 651-2929.