WSSC Entrepreneur program showing positive response from community

MANISTEE — West Shore Community College is always looking to fill community needs and the most recent public request is to provide more classes and programs related to entrepreneurial efforts.

The WSCC Business Opportunity Center under new director Julie Van Dyke has been very proactive in that area. This week she reported to the college trustees on what has transpired in the past several months.

WSCC director of college relations Thom Hawley pulled it into perspective.

“The business opportunity center connects business to resources,” Hawley said. “The small business sector is one of the fastest growing in our nation’s economy. An ever increasing number of adults today that are unemployed or self-employed in Manistee, Lake, Mason and Oceania counties either work for a small business, or plan to start their own.

“While the college business opportunity center helps prospective entrepreneurs launch new ventures, it also assists established business.”

Hawley told the board that in Manistee, training and testing have been given to established businesses like Fab Lite, Martin Marietta, Morton Salt and P.C.A. by WSCC. He said they also support the restaurant and hospitality business with specialized training programs.

Board or Trustees chair Jim Jensen said the entrepreneurial program is something that he and vice chair Mike Ennis have been working toward for years.

“Mr. Ennis has been on the board the longest of any of us, and the two of us have spent a lot of time in the need for entrepreneurship training and to support businesses in our community,” said Jensen. “We are very pleased that we have moved to the point where we are now and excited about the business opportunity center and the entrepreneurial program.”

College president Charles Dillon informed the board that back in the fall of 2010, WSCC hired Julie Van Dyke to prepare a plan for the expansion of the college’s entrepreneurial program. Van Dyke prepared that program and it was presented to the board in January 2011.

“Sometime after that time, the director Ed Palsrok retired, and Julie Van Dyke was hired as the director of the business opportunity center,” said Dillon.

The board also received an update on the incubator initiative.

“That was about an eight-month process and I remember standing in this very room talking to the Manistee Commissioners last fall about the project and we worked with the county clerk to get the DDA list from all our counties and we surveyed those entrepreneurs and small business owners. The outcome of that study last fall showed there was no sufficient demand for actual physical incubator rental space. That wasn’t something on the top of people’s mind and I think it had something to do with the current state of our economy.”

Van Dyke pointed out how there are many empty business buildings at the present time because many people are making the choice to work from their homes. She said it reduces overhead.

“We hope in the future when more people become acquainted with business incubators there will be a need for one in the future,” said Van Dyke. “We did learn from the study that the entrepreneurs did ask for one hub, a central location to provide resources for their support.”

The top part of the plan was to come up with a site for an entrepreneurship office.

“With workforce development changing over to the business opportunity center, it was a perfect for the the college to house this service,” said Van Dyke. “We have an entrepreneur advisory committee that meets bi-monthly and we have representatives from all four counties. We do have a web presence and do a newsletter.”

Van Dyke said they hold monthly seminars and 22 people enrolled in a QuickBooks training seminar. The service is very important to have business owners do their books.

“We are still looking at what classes and curriculum we can offer like Ice House, Generation E and other such things,” said Van Dyke.

What makes the program successful is partnerships with the area chamber of commerces and economic development offices according to Van Dyke. It is an effort to avoid duplication and to work together on projects to make sure all the bases are covered.

Grant funding is often difficult to come by, but they did receive a $9,000 grant from the Coleman Foundation.

“We are also looking at the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training Program grant,” said Van Dyke. “That is in the process of being done now.”

Van Dyke said they are working hard at putting together a good collaborative effort between Manistee and Mason counties on this project, and appear to be ready to move forward with the next chapter.

“We have been taking a lot of baby steps over the years, “ said Van Dyke. “That was a real simple way to do it, but it got us to where we are today and we needed to do these things. It did help us earn some credibility in regards to entrepreneurship.

“I really think we are moving in the right direction with these monthly workshops and the participation numbers keep growing.”




Posted by Ken Grabowski

Ken is News Advocate’s education reporter. He coordinates coverage for all Manistee County schools and West Shore Community College. He can be reached by phone at (231) 398-3125 or by email at

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