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Alliance offers help for businesses
When times get tough, the tough should get going. That was the word offered to Ceres business people during a 90-minute presentation hosted Thursday, March 24 at the Ceres Community Center by the Stanislaus Economic Development & Workforce Alliance and city of Ceres and Ceres Chamber of Commerce.

The good news for the struggling business community is that free help is available through the Alliance.

"We came to let the business community know what we can do for them," said Ceres resident Lea Ann Hoogestraat of the Alliance.

Bryan Briggs, redevelopment and economic development director for the city of Ceres, said many businesses today "are barely hanging on" as disposable income drops.

Located at the 1010 Tenth Street county-city building in downtown Modesto, the Alliance offers an impressive array of services - mostly free of charge - to businesses and those wanting to start up a business. The agency can help write business plans, assist with business resources, help with problem resolution, workforce training needs, and assistance with permits and regulations.

A number of free employer services runs the gamut, from help in recruiting employees to pre-screening job applicants, from job postings to human resources issues.

The Small Business Development Center can supply anyone with demographic information, offers one-on-one business counseling, can help with marketing and strategtic plans.

Alliance staff also can have consultants assist at-risk businesses. Bassitt said the Alliance invested over 1,000 hours with one company to save it from closing, saving 150 jobs in Stanislaus County.

The Alliance is actively engaged in attracting new business and industry to the county by offering help in site locations.

Delyn Meyers said Stanislaus County is seeing more inquiries about business locations but said the area competes against other agricultural areas, such as the Inland Empire, other Valley counties, Nevada, Arizona and Utah.

"It's still dog eat dog out there," said Meyers.

Bill Bassitt, CEO of the Stanislaus Economic Development & Workforce Alliance, said it's not true that the Alliance is "beholden" to Modesto, stating that there are more readily available sites outside of Modesto than in.

Bassitt said the Alliance gets virtually no out of state inquiries because "California is not a business friendly state." But he said the state has offered Enterprise Zones, of which Ceres was included in 2005. Businesses that hire employees who qualify in 13 categories can earn up to $37,000 in tax credits per employee over a five-year period. There are also incentives for sales and use taxes. A map of the zone is available on the Alliance website,

State lawmakers are actually considering the repeal of enterprise zones, which Bassitt feels would be "shooting ourselves in the foot."

Hoogestraat handles the Alliance's Business Retention and Expansion programs.

The Workforce Alliance is helping local schools develop a better trained workforce. Program manager Keith Griffith said the Alliance spoke to local manufacturers who complained that local schools were not turning out students with job skills. The problem is not bad schools, he said, but challenging students. At least 50 percent of students in the Valley are from migrant families or English as a second language families and from broken homes.

Griffith said he is proud of the "outstanding" Advanced Manufacturing program at Ceres High School which is turning out students who are qualified for entry-level manufacturing jobs.

"'We have a lot of good stuff going on here," said Griffith. "We're getting a better educated workforce."

Experts say that in the next 20 years, 80 percent of the jobs will require specialized skills, including technical, college and math and science know-how.

Making teaching more relevant to the real world of employment has other benefits, said Griffith, including a 95 percent attendance rate or higher and higher graduation rates.

Cary Pope, president of the Ceres Chamber of Commerce, said the seminar was good. "It's imperative these days that we stay informed," Pope told the business owners in attendance.