Small Business Development Center starts new chapter

From left, Thomas Payne, Tennessee Tech College of Business dean; Stephen Crook, vice president of economic development with the Cookeville-Putnam County Chamber of Commerce; Mark Farley, Upper Cumberland Development District and Upper Cumberland Human Resource Agency director; Tyler Asher, SBDC director; and Thomas Timmerman, professor and chairman of the decision sciences and management department in the College of Business.

COOKEVILLE – The Upper Cumberland office of the Tennessee Small Business Development Center (SBDC) has a new location and a new director.

The SBDC is now a partnership between Tennessee Tech and the Upper Cumberland Development District and will be located at the Upper Cumberland Human Resource Agency’s office at 580 S. Jefferson Ave. Tyler Asher, a 2014 graduate of Tennessee Tech’s business management program, was named director in April. 

“The SBDC offers small business start-up services and is currently able to help businesses deal with the current COVID-19 pandemic,” Asher said. “We have been tasked with rolling out the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program and other related COVID-19 recovery loans.”

Asher has 10 years’ experience in business development and client engagement/retention. Prior to taking over SBDC, he worked in the insurance industry as a business consultant and financial representative. 

Through the SBDC, Asher has already helped a variety of Upper Cumberland small businesses get needed funds for survival through the unexpected shutdown due to COVID-19. One of those is Jackson Kayak in Sparta.

“The SBDC has been a tremendous resource for us,” said Jeff Leach, human resources manager for Jackson Kayak. “They helped us locate possible financial resources and have been there every step of the way.”

When the pandemic hit, many of Jackson Kayak’s dealers who did not have a heavy e-commerce presence were forced to shut their doors temporarily.

“This, in turn, caused a huge drop in the sales of our products,” Leach said. “We largely manufacture high end outdoor goods, including what we believe to be the Ferraris of the kayak world. This caused us to regrettably have to furlough a very large percentage of our workforce. As the economy has slowly turned back on, we are now seeing a resurgence in sales and I am excited to say that we have been able to bring back a large percentage of our workforce and hope to continue with that steam.”

He found out about the SBDC when doing research on avenues to get through the pandemic.

“They helped us in getting the right paperwork, filling it out, locating a participating partner bank and updating us on the status of the loans,” Leach said. “I will always reach out to the SBDC when it comes to possible business needs.”

“Our services are available for anyone to use,” Asher said. “Business plans change constantly. Owners have to find ways to innovate and now is the time to innovate.”

Another is Franklin Fixtures, whose application had been erroneously withdrawn by the Small Business Administration. 

“Tyler went to work as our advocate, raising our issue and ultimately getting it sorted out and reinstated,” said Lisa Uhrik, Franklin Fixtures president. “Through his efforts, we now have a case worker assigned and working on our application.”

Franklin Fixtures creates custom fixtures for retailers and book stores. 

“We’re an essential business, but with at-risk individuals and a hearty concern for the safety of our team,” Uhrik said. “We’ve needed to pivot and offer our customers guidance, which we’re doing via webinars that have gotten about 1,000 views each, and products for doing business or re-opening safely.”

The company’s largest customer stopped operations March 22, which was a huge chunk of most of Franklin Fixtures’ fixed costs.

“But the good news is that we have a lot of opportunities and the market seemingly remains somewhat optimistic,” she said. “Our sales team is working hard and that is encouraging, but we just need a bit of help to bridge this moment.”

TSBDC also received an influx of funds to allow SBDC to broaden the number of businesses to help. 

“The SBDC is a valuable resource for current and prospective business owners who need expert assistance during this unprecedented economic crisis,” said Thomas Payne, dean of Tennessee Tech’s College of Business. “Tennessee Tech is excited about the new partnership with UCDD, and we look forward to working with regional chambers of commerce, city and county officials, economic development agencies, lending institutions and other organizations to assist local businesses and entrepreneuers. Small business is the backbone of our economy and the primary engine for job growth, both in the Upper Cumberland and across Tennessee. And our services provided by SBDC Director Tyler Asher and his team are vital as we re-open our economy and get people back to work.”

The Cookeville-Putnam County Chamber of Commerce is looking forward to working with hand-in-hand with the SBDC.

“Small business is an integral part in our community’s unique business identity,” said Cookeville-Putnam County Chamber President and CEO Amy New. “I have no doubt that under Tyler’s leadership, we can expect continued assistance and impressive advances to our small business community.”

“The SBDC is an unrivaled partner to the Chamber of Commerce and a needed asset in our region,” New continued. “Small business is thriving and we are thrilled for the opportunity to work hand-in-hand with the SBDC to keep economic and business prosperity a top priority for the Upper Cumberland.”

Call 931-520-6081 or email Asher at for more information.

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