Upon her return to the Blue Mountain Community College Small Business Development Center in late 2015, Carol Frink knew she had an overhaul on her hands.
One of 19 such offices across Oregon, BMCC’s center had fallen to dead last in the various metrics the organization uses to measure success, including its number of clients, the number of new businesses started under its guidance, and the number of jobs created.
In the two years since, Frink has overseen a dramatic turnaround that culminated in two awards — 2018 Oregon SBDC Award for Excellence & Innovation from the U.S. Small Business Administration and the Small Business Development Center Excellence Award for the Pacific Northwest region, which covers Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Alaska.
Whether it’s developing a concept, branding, financing, or human resources, the SBDC uses a team of five business advisers to provide free help to small business owners and prospective entrepreneurs.
A 40-year Hermiston resident, Frink didn’t start her career as a turnaround artist.
Frink was a banker for more than 12 years, working at the same local branch as it underwent a number of acquisitions, going from Western Heritage Savings and Loan to Benj. Franklin Savings and Loan to Bank of America.
Faced with approving small business loans, Frink said she became well-acquainted with aspiring merchants.
Applicants were seldom short on dreams or ideas, but definitive business plans weren’t always part of the equation. Frink’s first priority was to make sure the bank was making a good investment and not offering sound business advice, so she often sent applicants to the SBDC to refine their proposal.
She got to experience the other side of the coin when she was hired as an SBDC business adviser in 2002.
Not only did she help prospective business owners secure financing, but she helped them develop business plans and make sense of the numbers.
Frink said the SBDC business advisers offer a degree of separation, offering objective advice and preparing them for the challenges that will come.
“If you run a marathon, you don’t just show up on the day of the race,” she said.
Frink had done private business consulting work in the past, and she left the SBDC to start a new consulting business in 2012.
When BMCC recruited her to return to the SBDC as the director, it was not in good condition.
Ironically, Frink felt that the SBDC was operating without a plan and direction, and it was reflected by BMCC’s center being the lowest contributing member organization in the state.
Frink replaced many of the SBDC employees with a fresh set of advisers and they set about drumming up business.
From 2016 to 2017, the center’s clients increased from 213 to 265 and its capital infusion — the amount in loans and equity investments its clients made — grew from $439,119 to $1 million.
They number of new jobs created and new jobs were basically flat (15 to 16 and 33 to 31, respectively), but Frink said one of the most important statistics was the SBDC’s return on investment.
For every state dollar spent, the Oregon SBDC Network created $2.49 in state revenue while every federal dollar produced $2.56 in federal revenue.
Also important: SBDC-assisted businesses last longer.
Frink said that only 18 percent of business in Oregon last longer than 18 months. With the help of the SBDC, the percentage jumps to 85 percent.
Cumulatively, Frink said it is now the third best performing center in the state after the SBDCs in Portland and Lane County.