Business wasn’t doing so well for Ramon Macazani when he heard about the Eller Economic Development Program.
In 2012, his shop, Ramon’s Automotive in South Tucson, was still struggling against the weak economy and increased competition.
“I knew how to fix radiators, but we didn’t have much education on how to handle the business, how the system works,” he said, but the classes by Eller faculty and lecturers really helped him understand.
Through the program, Macazani learned how to invest money in his business, attract more clients and interact with customers. He also connected with other business owners who took part in the program.
Since then, his business has thrived, he said. He’s gone from five to eight employees and this year has been his most prosperous yet.
Along with free business classes, the program offers consultation to small businesses in underserved areas, including South Tucson.
“The idea is to push economic development from the bottom,” said program manager Poncho Chavez, giving businesses, many of them minority-owned, the tools they need to succeed.
The program, part of the University of Arizona’s Eller College of Management, was launched in 2012 with a $100,000 grant from JPMorgan Chase. It’s modeled after similar programs throughout the U.S., officials said, and gives owners the chance to start thinking of their businesses on a broader level.
One program component, the Business Certificate Program, is free and open to anyone. It runs for three hours a week for six weeks, taught in English every fall and Spanish in the spring. More than 100 people participated last fall, about 60 percent women and 50 percent Hispanic, officials said.
Spring 2016 classes, taught in Spanish, had 137 participants, 77 of whom owned a business.
Since the program began, more than 700 people have gone through the classes, held at the YWCA Southern Arizona. There may eventually be a fee for participants, but so far the program has been able to provide everyone with a full scholarship, Chavez said.
Classes cover topics such as management, marketing, sales, accounting, finance and legal issues.
A second program component is the Business Assistance Program. Businesses are selected to work directly with Eller College of Management students, who identify key issues within the companies that need improvement and propose solutions.
Every spring, 30 to 40 students are paired with a business in groups of three to five, for 16 weeks. The consultations include marketing data analyses, sales campaigns, advertising through social media and business management techniques.
Not only does the consultation process benefit business owners, it also helps students, said Jan Konstanty, who teaches the small-business consulting class.
“We’re achieving what we want to with the students, and we are having that impact on the companies,” he said. “That, to me, is actually pretty powerful.”
There is also the larger effect to the economy, he said.
“For a healthy economy, you need a vibrant small and medium size enterprise economy because that’s where the future big employers are,” Konstanty said. “These businesses are the lifeblood.”