Central Texas Business Resource Center operators Marcus Carr and Diane Drussell share advice with local entrepreneurs through one-to-one counseling, classes, weekly seminars, conferences

Herald/Steven Doll - Diane Drussell is the programs coordinator and Marcus Carr is the director of the Central Texas Business Resource Center in the Central Texas Workforce building at 300 Cheyenne in Killeen.

By Matt Goodman

Killeen Daily Herald

The Central Texas Business Resource Center is a one-of-a-kind advising practice for developing and existing businesses in the area.

Located in the Central Texas Workforce building at 300 Cheyenne in Killeen, the center is paid for by a partnership among the Greater Killeen Chamber of Commerce, Central Texas College and the Central Texas Workforce Commission.

This sets it apart from many government-sponsored programs designed to help guide small businesses. Because of who writes the checks, the Resource Center is stripped of bureaucracy. Its casual governing body – or "steering committee" – gives the center room to create a welcome environment for one-on-one and group business planning and consulting, officials said.

But thriving as a business adviser in Central Texas is no easy task: The area is a revolving community because of the impact from Fort Hood. And for Marcus Carr and Diane Drussell, who operate the center, understanding the ever-changing community's needs is essential to providing relevant information to the entrepreneurs they serve.

"We have the same mission from person to person," Carr said, "but it's often a different method."

Proactive thinking

About halfway through the first-ever Flavors of Central Texas in Killeen, officials ran out of wristbands for participants. Organized by the city's Chamber of Commerce and held in July, it replaced the annual Business Showcase, an event that had a solid foundation of sponsorship from area businesses but lacked community participation.

Both events shared the same goal: Get as many local businesses under one roof so residents can browse and discover what the area has to offer.

During the Flavors of Central Texas, the announcer barked that vendors should serve anyone in the room, wristband or not. Showcase, on the other hand, struggled to get anyone through the door.

Drussell, the programs coordinator at the Business Resource Center, organized the Flavors of Central Texas with the chamber. She helped event organizers identify a community want and used that to promote attendance.

So Showcase became Flavors, and food became the event's new focus. The annual business event finally sold out.

"If you're a small business, you see a value in the Showcase," she said. "But that ship had sailed."

This thinking applied to economic changes in Central Texas has yielded results for the Business Resource Center.

Carr and Drussell make up the entire staff, but they have managed to provide individual, confidential counseling to about 325 entrepreneurs this year. The two have also organized 61 group workshops that 597 people have attended in 2009.

They're on pace to reach more than 1,300 businessmen and women in Central Texas by year's end, and that's not counting how many call in with brief questions.

"We give them a reality check," Carr said. "We analyze if now is the right time, but we don't tell them that their business will not work here."

'Our own business assistance center'

In 1989, the Central Texas College lost its contract with the government's Small Business Administration, which was operating a small business center on campus.

John Frith, now the chairman of the Business Administration and Paralegal Department at Central Texas College and a member of the Business Resource Center's steering committee, was its counselor.

"We spent several years trying to get it back," he said. "So what we finally decided to do – and I was one of the instigators – we decided to just start our own business assistance center."

The timing worked out. Space was available for a new center and the Texas Women's Business Center in Temple was being forced out of its spot at the time. Frith convinced the center to relocate and the Business Resource Center was born.

Now, it's housed in the Central Texas Workforce building, complete with access to many classrooms for Carr's weekly business sessions, computer lab and office space.

Carr was hired in 2002 as a counselor and was promoted about a year later to director. He hired Drussell in 2007, and the two have since combined to comb national and local economic activity to better inform their clients.

"We do that because any business needs to be more innovative and more inventive," Drussell said.

Applying economic trends

From their research of the area and of trends in the business realm come a host of weekly seminars, speaking ventures, classroom visits and 300-plus attendee conferences.

So far this year, Carr has conducted 61 workshops on using social media through Facebook and Twitter, opening a restaurant, and promoting and marketing a business. He plans a session about successfully operating a business within eBay's virtual walls.

In February, the center will host the fourth annual Fort Hood Region Government Vendor Conference and Exposition. This year, the event is extended to two days and will focus on ways small businesses can take advantage of the stimulus money government agencies have to dole out to contractors.

"We're putting agencies and small businesses together," Carr said. "And this is all different forms of government agencies: federal, state and local."

But what Carr and Drussell value most is their one-on-one counseling with entrepreneurs. The Copperas Cove Economic Development Corporation recognizes this and will often refer Cove businesses to the Resource Center and issue scholarships for city businesses to attend the seminars.

"We take advantage of the expertise of the Business Resource Center and use it as a joint effort," said Monica Hull, marketing director of the Copperas Cove Economic Development Corporation. "Obviously, every business is different, so one-on-one counseling is one of the best services."

Greater Killeen Chamber of Commerce president John Crutchfield sits on the steering committee and analyzes the center's monthly activities. To him, the opportunity for area businesses to have free one-on-one counseling is essential.

"We have a lot of soldiers who leave the military here who want to go into business but don't know how to do it," he said. "So the Business Resource Center really fits a demand that exists in this community and it works very well as a result."

Contact Matt Goodman at mgoodman@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7550.

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