By Kelley Atherton

Triplicate staff writer

The Chancellor's Office of California Community College named the North Coast Small Business Development Center (SBDC) the top-ranked SBDC in California.

The Eureka-based non-profit organization, with an office in Crescent City at 225 H St., was number one out of 35 centers. In 2006, the SBDC assisted businesses in obtaining $16.6 million in growth capital (loans and equity), money that has been invested into the businesses. Clients had sales increases of over $3.6 million and 138 jobs were created in Del Norte and Humboldt counties.

North Coast SBDC Executive Director Michael Kraft said that those numbers are based on the information clients give to them and are at a minimum. He said that this honor really goes to the counselors. They do not usually get recognition for helping business owners nor do they get to tell their stories because of confidentiality restrictions.

andquot;About 80 percent of our work is confidential,andquot; Kraft said. andquot;This is a nice chance to point to our business counseling team and their work.andquot;

In addition, Kraft named Barbara Burke of the Del Norte center as the top producing counselor. He noted that she logged more than 900 hours of one-on-one time with clients in the first half of the year. She also had 60 new clients in that same time, giving her a total of 100 in the area.

andquot;It feels so beautiful,andquot; Burke said about the honor. andquot;My goal is to be the best, but I don't put that expectation on my clients. I just want them to have the best business possible.andquot;

Originally from Marin County, Burke has taught business law at different colleges and had her own consulting company before North Coast SBDC hired her in 2006.

The organization helps to cultivate small business success in Del Norte and Humboldt Counties. They provide technical, financial and training support for new and existing companies. Essentially, counselors help people build their enterprise from the ground up, giving them the tools they need to be successful, Burke said. They do not, however, tell clients what decisions to make or how to run their businesses.

andquot;I tell people, 'I can't teach you the math, but I can give you the financial documents,andquot; Burke explained. andquot;I help demystify all the aspects of running a small business. It's a big joba one man band almost.andquot;

Kraft said the work that counselors do with individuals and the time they take to do the job right attributes to the organization's success. He said more than one-third of counseling hours come from Del Norte.

andquot;It's the basic work they do with individual people,andquot; Kraft said. andquot;(For example) it's the work Barbara does day in and day out.andquot;

The office in Del Norte regularly offers four workshops for business leaders. On Tuesday, Burke will hold a business plan basics workshop and next month the center will have a financial basics and marketing basics workshops.

andquot;Whether they are starting a business or obtaining financing, we try to understand what they want to do and why they want to it,andquot; Burke said. andquot;Then we have them write out their business objectives.andquot;

The purpose of the workshops is to not only explain the basics of how to write business plan or get loans and grants, she said, but how to promote oneself as a business leader.

andquot;One of the things we have them do is an elevator speech,andquot; Burke said. andquot;They have to explain what their business is (to someone they'd bump into on the elevator) from the time it takes to go from one floor to the nextin about 30 to 40 seconds.andquot;

All the SBDC's services are free with the help of federal, state and private grant funding, Burke said.

The office here gets about $90,000 from a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) from the city. In addition, North Coast SBDC gets $900,000 from the Small Business Administration (SBA), part of that amount is allocated to Crescent City, Kraft said.

The organization has plans in the upcoming months to help women and minority business owners do work with the California Department of Transportation. In addition, it will help small businesses affected by the salmon fishing closure in 2006 along the Klamath River to receive relief grants.

andquot;We'll be working to help them get through the applications,andquot; Kraft said.

Reach Kelley Atherton at