Stimulating the local economy

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The auto industry, Wall Street and the major banks, among others, have received stimulus money in amounts that are hard to comprehend and have never been seen before. 

Local middle market companies might be feeling left out and forgotten. You might be wondering if there is help for your business or are the stimulus dollars only available to big corporations.

The fact is there are several state sponsored stimulus-type programs that have been around for many years.  The common denominator for most funding is to help grow the economy, or recover, and to create and support job growth.  These programs remain somewhat unknown and often money can go unused.

There is no single clearing house of information about local and national stimulus funds.  But the Colorado Springs Regional Economic Development Corp., the state Office of Economic Development and community colleges are often aware of various stimulus funding programs in the state. 

Some of the more mainstream and well known programs include tax incentive packages, usually coordinated through the EDC, the Colorado Association for Manufacturing Technology and the Pikes Peak Workforce Center, among many others.

The CAMT is a statewide manufacturing assistance center focused on increasing the strength and competitiveness of Colorado manufacturers.  The program assists the Colorado manufacturing industry by providing on-site technical assistance and support, and collaboration-focused industry programs. 

“They train and do methodology, which is the key to success of CAMT programs.  We work to cement the learning,” said Joe Pentlicki, account manager for CAMT.  “This is not a classroom style learning environment, but is hands on in a real-life environment.”

The Pikes Peak Workforce Center supports business and promotes employment by connecting businesses with job seekers.  The organization also offers several training programs, funded by the Workforce Investment Act, that provide financial assistance to eligible residents of El Paso and Teller counties for training or re-training in demand occupations.

“We understand that business must continue to grow, but because profits are down many businesses are reluctant to hire,” said Jim Kynor, vice president of operations for PPWFC. “The Pikes Peak Workforce Center has resources available to help eligible companies offset part of the cost to staff positions in the short term, or to provide training opportunities that would otherwise be unavailable.”

Many work force development programs allow businesses to retain valuable staff and even hire more people.  In addition, the programs are designed to build the skill sets of the existing staff in order to meet the changing needs of the business.

“From my perspective, companies need to invest a lot of money on training which often takes a long time to recover,” said Tom Neppl, president and CEO of Springs Fabrication. “And, if the employee doesn’t work out, you never recover the funds.  By taking advantage of the many work force development dollars available companies can help offset some of those costs.”
Springs Fabrication has been able to successfully use work force development funds to improve its manufacturing process by bringing in new programs and training the entire staff.  These programs can cost upward of $50,000, so grants and other funding sources help make the investment possible.

Like most, the CAMT closely tracks its programs. 

“We monitor the outcomes of our programs very carefully,” Pentlicki said. “A recent study showed that from January 2000 through December 2008, CAMT helped local businesses increase revenues by $140 million and cut costs by $54 million.”

Staying tapped into the community and networking are great ways to finding out about funding opportunities. 

Springs Fabrication, a local industrial manufacturing company, has people in-house who seek out and monitor various local funding opportunities.  Through the years, it has developed strong relationships with local work force and other development groups and now will often receive phone calls about funding opportunities. 

There is no such thing as a free lunch.

“These organizations don’t just give you a check and trust that you’ll do what you say,” Neppl said. “There is quite a bit of paperwork involved and record keeping guidelines so you can document how the money was used.”

When setting out to secure stimulus funding for your company it is important to have a specific plan, to understand what expectations and requirements are attached to the money and then follow through on what you say you are going to do. 

“Think strategically about how these funds will help your business in the long run,” Kynor said. “Recovery funding is short-term in nature, so you don’t want to build your work force around funding that is going to end without a plan for the long-term.”

Petlicki concurs.  His advice to anyone looking for these types of programs is to think strategically. 

“People hear about funding sources and get so excited, but don’t take the time to determine where they want to go strategically,” he said. “Companies plan to use the money for the short-term tactical problems of today and lose sight of the long-term business strategy of the company which is critical to its success.  Don’t just train to train, but leverage the money for good reasons.”

Ann Snortland, principal of Snortland Communications, is the spokeswoman for the Peak Venture Group Middle-Market Entrepreneurs.  She can be reached at ann@snortcomm.com.