UTPB SBDC lauded for job, business creation

Release Date: 
Thursday, April 28, 2016
Corey Paul

Almost three years, ago Gilbert and Rosie Ramirez started Epic Collision Services without ever running a business of their own before.

Since then, they grew their staff of five to 19 employees, and in the months ahead they plan to open a second location on Business 20.

The University of Texas of the Permian Basin Small Business Development Center helped them do it. And on Thursday, the local resource drew accolades for such work from the federal U.S. Small Business Administration for its work helping hundreds of small businesses and creating hundreds of jobs.

The center won the 2016 Excellence and Innovation Award based on success stories like the Ramirez’s, beating seven counterparts in a 71-county region.

The UTPB SBDC, at no charge and with a team of five, offers professional business counseling, technical and business plan assistance, training workshops and reference resources for people starting a business for the first time, pursuing a new venture or seeking to expand the company they have.

“The fear of starting was a big obstacle for me and for our family,” said Gilbert Ramirez, who first visited the center in August 2012. In the months following, the center helped the couple get a loan and craft a business plan.

“Thank you for allowing us to think big,” Gilbert Ramirez told the center’s staff at an award ceremony Thursday. “Thank you for allowing us to take that opportunity. It is very important to continue. It is very important to have this in this town, because it gives small people like us an opportunity to make something a reality, a dream a reality.”

The staffers at the SBDC are Director Enrique Romero, Assistant Director Emily Weinberg, Business Consultant Danny Hughes, Spanish Consultant Larissa Reza and Program Coordinator Kukina Hernandez.

Reynald Lops, the deputy district director of the U.S. Small Business Administration in Lubbock, said the agency does not always give out the award if centers fail to meet performance measures like jobs created and counseling hours provided.

“I know specifically what they are supposed to do, and I’ve got to tell you they do not care to do that — they far exceed it,” Lops said. “I know personally Enrique will go to the bank with a person who needs to get a loan and help them through that process. Nobody does that. Nobody.”

Lawana Smith said the center helped her buy L’Oven Expressions Bakery and reopen it in 2011, after a previous career in management and consulting including for the cookie company Mrs. Fields.

“I didn’t know anything about putting together a business for myself,” Smith said, adding the center helped inspire her to take risks and assisted her efforts to secure financing.

Odessa Chamber of Commerce CEO Mike George nominated the SBDC for the award. The chamber’s chairman-elect Austin Keith lauded the center for fostering the sort of entrepreneurship he described as foundational to Odessa.

“Out here in West Texas, I always tell people, we hang on a small tree out here,” Keith said. “We are together. It’s a little bitty mesquite. That’s what our chamber of commerce brings, that’s what our development corporation brings, that’s what SBA brings to the table. That’s what ya’ll bring. It helps get people into business.”

Odessa Development Corporation board member Jimmy Breaux proclaimed Thursday “UTPB Small Business Development Center Day” on behalf of the city. The ODC supplements the state and federal funds the center receives with local tax dollars and regularly praises the center’s results.

In 2015, for example, the center reported providing more than 1,900 hours of business consulting to 436 clients. The team helped secure more than $8 million in financing, helped entrepreneurs open or buy a total 53 businesses in the area, and they created 289 jobs. Lops said the jobs figure is almost certainly an undercount, because the center is only allowed to count jobs created when a business it helps opens, not the jobs added later.

The center serves a 16-county region, but Romero said about 65 percent of those results represented businesses in Odessa. 

“We don’t take money from anybody, we don’t,” Romero said. “I think we are probably the only organization that I’ve seen, where the vested interest in us is that you succeed. You have to open your doors. You have to get funded. You have to, in order for us to check something off and say, Look, we got results.”

For his part, Romero thanked his team and said the measure of their success lies in the businesses and jobs they help create.

“It’s not free,” Romero said. “We are taking tax dollars here, so we’ve got to give back.”