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VALLEY BUSINESS

Center Offers Pacoima Business Owners Full Array of Classes

Training: Low-cost programs help entrepreneurs develop skills and add jobs within the community.

May 18, 1999|JENNIFER PENDLETON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

There's a wealth of education and training opportunities available to small businesses in Pacoima and throughout the San Fernando Valley, at little or no charge.

The Valley Economic Development Center's Northeast Valley Business Assistance Center opened in Pacoima in the wake of the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

Its mission was, and is, to attract, create and retain jobs in Pacoima and adjacent communities.

Much of its work focuses on helping local enterprises arrange financing and take advantage of any federal and state benefits for which their companies are eligible. But it also tries to help business personnel acquire the tools that will help them succeed, and therefore create what the Northeast Valley needs--more jobs.

That means schooling.

The center's flagship course is its entrepreneurship series, a 10-week program, typically with 30 students, where fledgling business owners learn the nuts and bolts of running a small business: everything from how to get a business license to keeping books and understanding financial fundamentals, such as managing cash flow.

Daniel Morales' class is taught in Spanish, but the Valley center offers the course in English at other locations.

Around 150 people take the entrepreneurship series annually, many coming from Pacoima.

The course isn't completely free of charge, but close to it. Participants must pay a $50 deposit, which is refunded to those who attend regularly. Miss three or more classes, and the money is forfeited. Students also must make a commitment to create at least one job within 12 months.

"They have to be on a growth track," said Valley Economic Development Center President John Rooney.

The class is open to any Valley business in operation for at least six months but less than seven years. Graduates are eligible for 10 hours of free advice from a professional business consultant.

David Wyckoff, president of KDL Precision Molding Corp., took the entrepreneurship series six years ago when his Pacoima-based enterprise had only six or seven employees and was struggling to survive.

Today, it has 50 employees, and Wyckoff credits KDL's growth, in part, to information gained from the course.

"It organized us and made us made us look at everything from marketing to cost controls to business plans," he said. "It's like a junior MBA."

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The economic development center offers another popular series, its "Breakthrough" program, open to local businesses with more than $500,000 in annual sales. It organizes members of fast-track companies into teams that become executive advisory boards who hold weekly meetings with course participants.

The series includes monthly sessions in which the business owners lay out their major strategic issues or challenges, then receive advice from peers.

Financial services company Merrill Lynch provides ongoing support to all these businesses by reviewing quarterly goals and financial statements.

This course costs $200 a month.

The center also offers a number of short-term seminars and workshops on topics such as the Internet, marketing and business law, at nominal fees.

The aim is to try to boost Pacoima businesses, which would help turn around a community still struggling with unemployment and poverty despite the booming economy.

"What's strange is that you have a vibrant industrial base [in Pacoima], but you still have unemployment issues," Rooney said. "There's not a good linkage between the unemployed and manufacturers."

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