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Giving small business a boost

Local firms give S.L. area flavor, Rocky tells group

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When Shauna Lynne's husband died unexpectedly of a spider bite, the mother of 10 — who had dedicated her life to childhood education — was devastated.

"I was one of those housewives who thought life would go forever like that. And my children said, 'Mom, do what you love to do.' And I love to entertain," Lynne said. "I remember passing out that first business card was so scary to me."

Now, three years after launching Personal Touch Catering from her home kitchen, Lynne employs 27 full-time staffers and 40 part-time workers to meet the needs of more corporate customers than she can count and hobnobs in a world she never knew before.

Lynne now works from a state-of-the-art kitchen and holds the exclusive contract to feed diners at Salt Lake Community College and Intel Corp. Other regular customers include American Express, Coca-Cola Corp., United Parcel Service and Convergys Corp.

Although her story sounded like a dream come true for most of the 130 small-business entrepreneurs attending the "Go for the Business Gold" workshop at the Larry H. Miller Entrepreneurial Training Center Friday, Lynne said growing so quickly has posed its share of difficulties.

"I was doing it out of my kitchen, and it felt like I was running ahead of a steamroller trying to keep up with the growth," she said. "I'd never been a businesswoman at all, so this was really challenging for me. It's scary to get this big."

Sponsored by Deseret Certified Development Co. and several small-business assistance groups, the conference was designed to address the types of challenges expanding small businesses such as Lynne's face and to give information and hope to women- and minority-owned businesses in the start-up phase.

Deseret Certified is Utah's exclusive provider of the U.S. Small Business Administration's 504 loans — used primarily to fund housing or expansion of successful small businesses.

"I've always said that what brings Salt Lake City its attractiveness, its uniqueness and its charm are its locally-owned small businesses," Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson told conference-goers. "Not only do these businesses make living in Salt Lake City more enjoyable, but they also add to our economic base."

Small businesses give the state's capital a diverse flavor, unlike surrounding "look-alike communities with one of these cookie-cutter strings of national chains," Anderson said.

"When we patronize large chain stores all the money is quickly transferred to out-of-state bank accounts," he said. "I don't know about you, but when I go out of town I don't come back and talk about the really cool Starbucks I went to."

Start-up funds are there for the taking, Anderson said, pointing to the 27 businesses that received a share of $1 million handed out in low-interest revolving loans in 2001. Anderson pointed with particular pride to the Distinctive African-American Art gallery's renovation of its year-old downtown Salt Lake location.

"To be able to get a 6 percent loan, that was like a godsend," gallery owner Gordon Dew said of the city's help. "I think it's a very valuable asset to the community."

The climate is good for small business, despite the current economic downturn, Anderson said.

"With all these cutbacks I think there are a lot of people who are seeing entrepreneurship as giving them more power in their lives," he said. "It's a great time."

"Interestingly enough, in times of difficult economic circumstances, many small businesses have thrived," said Salt Lake County Councilman Randy Horiuchi, one of the founders of Deseret Certified. "A lot of times it doesn't matter what the economy is, you just know it's going to succeed because of the people who are involved."

E-mail: moneill@desnews.com