In 2010, Marcus Fahlgren founded his first business, Central Composites LLC, and started looking for ways to run the Redmond-based manufacturing company more efficiently.

“When you start a business, almost everything has a learning curve,” Fahlgren said.

In 2012, Fahlgren enrolled in the Small Business Management program at Central Oregon Community College’s Small Business Development Center, a two-year program where business owners and managers learn practices that help them run their companies more effectively.

For Fahlgren, the class helped Central Composites, which uses composite material to manufacture vehicle parts, secure financing from a local bank and grow to the point where he needed to hire a general manager. Indeed, he found it so effective that he re-enrolled for the 2016 class, which begins meeting in February.

“Since completing the class, we’ve doubled in size,” he said.

Nine companies will be returning for their second year, while at least 10 new companies have enrolled for their first year.

The Small Business Management program began in Oregon in the late 1980s, and 14 of the 19 Small Business Development Centers in the state operate the full two-year program, according to Jim Wilcox, who has worked as an instructor for the program for 16 years.

Since 1996, when the COCC development center began keeping records of businesses, 260 companies have entered and completed the first year of the program, according to Steve Curley, director of the COCC Small Business Development Center.

Each year costs a business owner $999, according to the center’s website. While the class is open to companies in all industries, Curley said applicants must be in business for at least a year to apply, and must have the equivalent of at least one full-time employee. Curley said this filters out less-experienced startups, who might flock to industry accelerator programs.

Curley said the program lasts nine months, beginning in February and running through December, though it takes July and August off. Each group of businesses — typically 12 to 15, according to Curley — meets in a classroom setting once a month for three hours. Separately, Wilcox said each business meets with him for a one-on-one advising session each month as well.

“It’s basically a business coaching, mentorship program combined with an educational component,” Wilcox said.

The class covers a wide variety of topics, including financial management, operations, sales and marketing and organizational development structure. In the individual meetings, Wilcox focuses on concerns specific to the companies but generally wants owners to have a vision for what they want their companies to look like, and a plan for how to achieve that vision.

Robert Powell, a 2009 graduate and the owner and founder of Prineville-based steel fabrication company Fab-Tech Manufacturing Inc., won the U.S. Small Business Administration 2015 Oregon Small Business Owner of the Year award. Powell, who now employs 23 people, said the program helped him focus on the public image of his business without taking up too much of his time.

“It was flexible, and in business you have to remain flexible,” Powell said.

— Reporter: 541-617-7818, shamway@bendbulletin.com

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