Small Business Development Center honors best new businesses on island


Samoa News

It is meant to help small business on island, but the goals - and successes - of American Samoa's Small Business Development Center(AS-SBDC) located at American Samoa Community College are by no means small.

At an advisory board luncheon meeting held on Friday, Nov. 19 at Sadie's by the Sea, Herb Thweatt, State Director for the AS-SBDC presented the statistics for 2010 (thus far) as well as the annual report for 2009.

The State Director also used the occasion to recognize those businesses acknowledged by AS-SBDC as the best among all new start-up businesses this year.

According to the information presented, AS-SBDC has met, and in most cases, exceeded their goals to serve the community. One example given was the goal for 14 new Start-Ups businesses. To date, this year, there have been 23 new businesses created, ranging from retail to manufacturing, and entertainment, to health, sports and fitness.

Funded primarily by the Small Business Administration (SBA) the AS-SBDC has been sponsored by and located on the upper campus of American Samoa Community College for ten years. For the past seven of those years, it has been under the direction of Herbert Thweatt, a Virginia native who now calls American Samoa home.

Said Thweatt on Friday, "We talk to you throughout the year about the possibilities in the community, and what we can do if we work together. Once a year, we hold this meeting, where we recognize - and celebrate - businesses which are here today which may have not been here a year ago."

June Paogofie-Sitala, Manager and Counselor for the center's Business Development Division, welcomed the group, and gave a brief overview of the year's goals and statistics.

She stated, "We have surpassed our goals for the year! We're growing, and more people are utilizing our services."

She noted that a grant received this year from the Bank of Hawaii Charitable Foundation will enable AS-SBDC to make available "micro-loans" for small business start ups.

(Bank of Hawaii and its Charitable Foundation provide discretionary and long term pledge grants which benefit non-profit organizations involved in improving the quality of life, health and well being of individuals and communities in the markets that Bank of Hawaii serves. Most recently, the Foundation was instrumental in aiding Hope House with a sizable donation.)

Also made available to the states and territories this year by the U.S. Congress "Small Business Job Acts Program" was some $50 Million to aid small businesses and entrepreneurs and specifically targeted to create jobs. This money will come to the SBDC through their chief funding agency, the Small Business Administration.

Explained Thweatt, "Every state and territory was allotted funds, and we were apportioned $325,000 for additional business counseling, training, and possible small business ‘incubators' at low cost to help business start-ups."

He added, "None of the States or U.S. Territories will need to find matching funds to be awarded this money."

Before presenting this year's honors to start-up businesses Thweatt noted that starting a business is hard work - something which many people do not realize in the beginning.

"They go into their own business thinking "now I won't have to work so hard" he said, which drew some knowing chuckles from the audience.

"We are here to assist entrepreneurs" he stated, reminding the group that people see this training as a positive step forward. "Our supervisor's training is on the same level, or better, than anywhere in the world." he affirmed.

This is in line with the Center's Vision Statement, which reads in part that AS-SBDC is committed to providing "quality training and counseling that enables entrepreneurs and the business community to be successful builders and leaders in the territory's future."

It is their vision "to cultivate the process of life-long learning by exploiting world class training material and technology as tools to enhance human potential."

In addition to supervisory courses, the center offers seminars and workshops covering topics such as grant writing, QuickBooks, customer service and business start up.

In addition to a very popular Korean language class, they have this year, added a new course, "English for Business" which Thweatt explained as "American English, specifically for business".

The 2009 Annual Report was presented, with the front cover dedicated to economic recovery. In the aftermath of the tsunami - which wreaked havoc in lives, and tore into many of the territory's businesses that year - the report gave evidence of the Center's work.

During 2009, SBDC was able to serve and counsel 215 clients, provide start-up assistance to 12 businesses, and infuse over $231,000 into the economy. The SBDC also sponsored a total of 33 training events in 2009, with a total of 327 attendees, according to the annual report.

It also noted the separate and vitally important part the SBA played in American Samoa following the destructive tsunami. The SBA approved $6.2 million in disaster loans which allowed residents to repair and replace homes and personal property. They also approved $3.8 million for American Samoa businesses and private, non-profit organizations.

The statistics for 2010 were impressive as well: over $826,000 capital infusion into the economy; 143 total clients counseled as of Nov. 18, 2010 with 94 of those new clients; and 216 clients trained at 21 training events.


Special awards were presented this year by Thweatt to the following people and new businesses:

• ACT Chips- Mr. Sefulutasi and Temukisa Senefili for Manufacturing Business Start-up of the Year

The couple used their money to fund a small business creating taro chips and banana chips, which are now being used as part of the School Lunch Program in an SLP effort to utilize local produce and local business for the children's lunch menus. After the presentation, Sefulutasi stood and commended the SBDC for the tremendous help which they had given to him and his wife, who are both retired and wanted to do something different, working as a family.

• Tanoa Samoa - Mr. Aaron and Cindy Forsgren for E-Commerce Business Start-up of the Year. The Forgrens are currently traveling on behalf of the business, but were represented by Forsgren staff at the luncheon to receive the award.

• Bookworm Books - Mr. Tim and Cindy Tutt for Retail Business Start-up of the Year.

The couple has relocated here from Oregon to start a book store, internet cafe and espresso coffee bar (complete with fresh roasted Hawaiian Hazelnut beans).

Said Mr. Tutt afterward, "We were honored to get the award, and happy we were able to bring the book store to the island. We received great assistance from SBDC in terms of counseling and classes and they have continued to help us move forward with advertising in the local market... getting paperwork through the system... they've been extremely helpful in helping us open this business."

By Teri Hunkin

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