Small Business center names new director

Jim Kraft

MIDDLETOWN — The Lord Fairfax Small Business Development Center has a new executive director.

The center, funded by the Small Business Administration and local economic development authorities, offers area small businesses counseling, training and planning services. It serves Frederick, Clarke, Shenandoah, Warren, Fauquier, Culpeper, Madison and Rappahannock counties.

Jim Kraft came on board as executive director Nov. 10, completely taking over from Bill Sirbaugh last Tuesday. Kraft said he would build on the groundwork laid by Sirbaugh’s 16 years at the center.

“My job is going to be to carry on what he’s done, hopefully build on it,” Kraft said. “It’s a well-run operation and I’ll put a little bit of my stamp on it. I’m not going to be instituting any widespread changes.”

Kraft said the center’s overall mission is to provide feedback to small business owners or people looking to get into business, about their business plans.

“I sometimes say … it’s a disinterested third party that has nothing to gain or lose by telling the truth,” Kraft said. “I did this in Vale, Colorado, and 60 percent of my cases I advised against going into business, because I knew they wouldn’t make it.”

Handling cases ranging from prospective restaurant owners to people trying to invent perpetual motion machines, Kraft said it is easy to start a business, but it is hard to keep it going.

“Starting a business isn’t all that difficult, making it work is very difficult,” Kraft said. “It’s like learning to play the guitar. Anybody can learn to play the guitar, but to play the guitar well, that’s going to take a lot of work.”

According to Kraft, there are typically three different scenarios he deals with when people come to the center for counseling and training.

“The first scenario is somebody who has no idea how to start a business, but they have an idea,” Kraft said. “We try to sit down with them and figure if it is a feasible idea.”

Kraft continued, “Then you have the person who has fleshed out the idea, they have experience, they have funds and they may be able to get it going.”

The third scenario, according to Kraft, is existing businesses looking to expand.

“Expanding a business can be just as a dangerous as a start up,” Kraft said. “The business gets used to having a certain amount of cash flow coming in, but when they expand, the cash coming in doesn’t always catch up to money going out.”

Kraft said the economic environment for small businesses is a mixed bag in the region.

“There’s some really good pockets of business and there’s some places that need some work,” Kraft said. “It’s like anywhere in this country. You go from town to town and you see one town is thriving like crazy and the next is having a tough time.”

According to Kraft, one of the biggest challenges for small businesses is the unpredictability of the economy.

“You used to be able to anticipate and plan out for three, four or five years,” Kraft said. “In this market now, it’s very difficult to plan out for more than a year or two because things change so fast … the stock market and the mood of the country can switch in an evening.”

Kraft said one of the most important areas the center focuses on is helping small businesses secure loans from banks.

“We try to help both existing and future businesses establish the numbers to justify securing the loan,” Kraft said. “A lot of people think if they can build the business, they will come. It isn’t the “Field of Dreams,” you know.”

Kraft said his future plan as director is to get out and meet the region’s town managers, economic development authorities and small businesses.

The center’s counseling services are free to any small business or prospective small business. Training seminars, such as a weekend seminar in small business accounting, require a fee. The center also offers mystery shopper programs and focus groups as well. The center is located at Lord Fairfax Community College in Middletown.

Contact staff writer Henry Culvyhouse at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or hculvyhouse@nvdaily.com