Find Your Way: Region’s new Business Atlas to launch this month

REGION -If you're an entrepreneur looking to launch a business or a small business owner eyeing expansion of a current operation, there's a new venture to give you guidance and advice: the Northwest Michigan Business Atlas.

The best part? Its services are absolutely free.

The Northwest Michigan Business Atlas will debut at the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce 2011 Business Expo on Nov. 8 at the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa.

The Business Atlas is a joint venture by Northwest Michigan College, the Northwest Michigan Council of Governments, Small Business Technology and Development Center, Procurement Technical Assistance Center, Northwest Michigan Works!, Traverse Bay EDC/Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Development Association and SCORE.

All of these diverse organizations already offer valuable input to businesses and entrepreneurs, but the array of services is sometimes so overwhelming to business newbies that not much gets utilized.

The Business Atlas is designed to streamline the assistance process and make it easy for clients to solve their problems and get questions answered.

Say you have basic questions about a business plan, pricing, marketing, tax regulations, human resources or more. Using a sort of "business triage" process, Business Atlas would connect you with the precise agency or expert to provide advice on these topics at no charge.

The Business Atlas will also offer training opportunities to small business owners. Depending on who's seeking advice, specific one-on-one mentoring may be available.

"The purpose of the Business Atlas is to bring together all the agencies and organizations that provide services to businesses," says Janie McNabb, director of program development and community relations for NWMCOG. "A huge percentage of our economy is small businesses. We're working together to make it easy to provide information to them. Our target customers are aspiring entrepreneurs and existing businesses that want to grow and mature."

Beginning Nov. 8, curious entrepreneurs and others can access the expertise of The Business Atlas online at www.businessatlas.org.

Or if you prefer face-to-face assistance, simply visit the Business Atlas office at the Parsons-Stulen building on NMC's Aeropark Campus, formerly known as M-Tec.

The Business Atlas' core service area is the five-county region of Antrim, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska and Leelanau counties.

Representatives of the groups have been meeting for about a year in preparation for the Business Atlas launch, according to Steve Morse of SCORE. "This is not something that was put together without a lot of thought," he says. "We'll help clients determine their needs and walk them through any issues they have. Then once the problem is determined, we help them go forward with solutions."

Having so many agencies involved provides a diverse array of business expertise for clients. "There's a wealth of experiential business knowledge involved, adds Morse, who has been a SCORE volunteer for about five years. "Teaming up with all the others makes everybody better."

The Business Atlas is funded by a grant awarded to NMC by the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Growth. BN

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