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Among the takeaways from thousands of hours of phone conversations with Las Cruces small business owners since the onset of Covid was that “they love what they do” and their primary concern is for their employees, said Small Business Development Center at Doña Ana Community College (SDBC) Director Jo Ann Garay and Business Adviser Jennifer Therrien.
“I didn’t have one business owner that thought of themselves first,” Garay said. “They were doing everything they could to keep their employees on.”
“It gutted them” to let employees go, Therrien said, especially workers who had been with their businesses for a long time.
Often dealing with 30 to 40 phone calls a day after state public health orders forced many businesses to shut down in the spring of 2020, Garay, Therrien and SBDC’s other business adviser, Mary Ann Quesada, had to recommend that owners make tough decisions to stay in business, including laying off employees. Sometimes they had to tell business owners, “You don’t have a choice here,” Therrien said. “Look at the numbers.”
It was even more difficult for Garay, Therrien and Quesada because they were dealing with clients who were panicking and sometimes in tears while making the almost overnight transition from working in an office to answering phone calls “from our kitchen table,” Garay said. The three also had to quickly master how to conduct meetings and appointments via Zoom.
“It was a big learning process for us,” Garay said.
And, as they helped businesses apply for Covid relief funds, Garay, Therrien and Quesada also discovered that some owners weren’t as good at record keeping as they needed to be.
Often faced with only a narrow window of time to apply for assistance, businesses sometimes didn’t have the records on hand that they needed, Therrien said.
“A lot of people learned what a profit and loss statement was,” Garay said.
Others were challenged by the technology needed to apply for grants and loans, either online or on their phones. Some owners who had been in business for a long time relied on paper record keeping, and that made it difficult to upload information for grant and loan applications, Garay and Therrien said.
Sometimes they didn’t speak English and SBDC staff had to translate the questions for them and then translate their answers.
The three did everything they could to assist every business that contacted them for help during Covid – just as they did before the pandemic and have continued to do as state public health orders placing restrictions on business operations have been relaxed. Collectively, Garay (20), Quesada (seven) and Therrien (three) have more than 30 years of experience with SBDC. Their office has 1,500 to 2,000 active clients.
“Jo Ann really, really cares about what she does,” said LiftFund (a regional nonprofit) Business Development Officer Victor Zamora of Las Cruces. The SBDC staff are “very, very in touch with the small business community,” he said.
Therrien was among those who received recognition from president and founder Nancy Bates when she cut the ribbon on The Village Early Childhood Development Center in Las Cruces in July. Bates presented Therrien with a plaque and thanked her for SBDC’s help and support in opening The Village.
Therrien’s visits to The Village are just one example of SBDC’s outreach. Going forward, she, Garay and Quesada are happy to visit local businesses to offer “a fresh set of eyes,” Therrien said.
“When you’re on their turf, it’s a whole different ballgame,” Garay said. “We can actually see what they can’t describe.”
Owners also tend to open up more at their own businesses, she said, and SBDC staff can often point out changes that might make the business even more successful.
“They show and tell their goals,” Garay said. “You start to see their dreams unfold.”
The statewide New Mexico Small Business Development Center (NMSBDC) hosts a wide range of live, online training sessions that are free of charge. Webinars in the second half of August include these topics: attracting and retaining customers, how to detect online picture plagiarism, basic steps to starting a business in New Mexico, e-commerce and alternative selling methods, business phone apps, being tax ready, listening to your business, attracting and retaining customers, government-to-business outreach and increasing word-of-mouth leads. Some sessions are bilingual.
For a complete list of NMSBDC training events, visit nmsbdc.ecenterdirect.com/events.
New Mexico SBDC history
NMSBDC network was established in 1989 through a partnership among the U.S. Small Business Administration, the state of New Mexico, the New Mexico Association of Community Colleges and the New Mexico Association of Independent Community Colleges, according to www.nmsbdc.org. The NMSBDC state office is located in Santa Fe. There are 18 NMSBDC service centers, including the Las Cruces location, and nine satellite offices across the state.
With a mission “to develop skilled entrepreneurs and strong businesses,” NMSBDC network staff have more than 750 years of combined small business management and ownership expertise and more than 440 combined years of service with NMSBDC. Consultants have helped network clients start almost 10,000 businesses in the state since 1991.
The Las Cruces SBDC is located at 2345 E. Nevada Ave., Suite 101. Call 575-527-7676. Email firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.