Mid Michigan businesses don’t have to grow alone, no-cost advice is availableQ&A with Michigan SBDC’s regional director, Tony Fox

Tony Fox’s path to the Michigan Small Business Development Center at Mid Michigan College was “a bit unexpected,” he says. As a youngster growing up in Beal City, he learned the building trade firsthand working in his father’s business. His formal education from CMU earned him a Bachelor of Applied Arts in Entrepreneurship and Master of Science in Administration. He became the owner and operator of a local residential construction company. Here’s where the “unexpected” came in: the result of lower-back issues impacted his ability to operate his construction business. What came next for Fox? The Michigan SBDC.

“When I hired in at the college, I figured I’d be here for about two to three years before moving on,” Fox shares. “17 years later I’m still here and enjoy tackling new projects and challenges each day.”

Fox joined the Michigan SBDC at Mid Michigan College as regional director in January of 2006. For almost 20 years, the Mt. Pleasant resident has shared his entrepreneurial background by assisting businesses across the region with consulting, training, and resources. Learn more about Fox and the SBDC in this Q&A. 

Epicenter: To someone who is unfamiliar with the SBDC, how would you describe the no-cost consulting services you provide to Michigan small businesses, especially considering the mid Michigan region you are director of?
Fox: Our consulting, training, and resources help established and emerging businesses who want to grow by reducing uncertainty and increasing access to relevant information and insight. More specifically, we help clients who are working on everything from business concepts, accessing capital, increasing sales, and improving cash flow, to buying or selling a business.

SBDC services are available on a no-fee basis to area businesses due to support from the U.S. Small Business Administration, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, and Mid Michigan College.

Epicenter: You’ve been an expert in helping so many with your expertise over the years. What about your job is the most fulfilling?
Fox: It’s exciting to help people who are creating opportunities, not only for themselves, but for their employees and the community as a whole.  

Epicenter: What is your favorite success story of an Isabella County-based business you’ve been able to assist with?
Fox: This year the Mid Michigan SBDC is proud to share that Wood Shop Social will be recognized as our Regional Best Small Business at the Michigan Celebrates Small Business Awards Gala on May 3rd in Lansing. In the past, some additional Isabella businesses recognized by the SBDC include: MTW Industries; Dog Central; Prism Analytical Technologies; Red’s Repair; Roz’s Diner; Summit Smokehouse; Mountain Town Brewing Company; Mr. Appliance; and Sleepy Dog Books.

Click here to learn more about Wood Shop Social with this Epicenter Mt. Pleasant article. (Photo: Jennifer Veitengruber/Epicenter)

Outside of the Michigan SBDC, you’re also very involved in the Mt. Pleasant community and surrounding central Michigan areas. Can you tell us more about what you’re involved in? 
Fox: Our region has so many good people working on important initiatives. Over the years I've been involved in a number of efforts. I find that focusing on only a few at one time is best for me to ensure I can truly contribute. Currently, my volunteer efforts are focused on the Mt. Pleasant Jaycee's Craft Beer Festival, Mt Pleasant Little League, and Junior Achievement of Mid Michigan.

Epicenter: What’s next for you and your efforts with the SBDC and/or the local community? We’d love to hear what you’re looking forward to being a part of in the future.
Fox: We are seeing an increased number of small business owners that are looking to transition into some form of retirement. In one sense this presents an economic vulnerability, but it also creates a tremendous opportunity for those looking to own and operate a business. Often these businesses have a proven track record and when that is combined with new perspective and energy it not only keeps those jobs locally, it can often result in new growth and expansion.

I’m also excited about the Michigan SBDC’s new Uplift Initiative. This effort is aimed at ensuring equitable access for entrepreneurs and small business owners throughout Michigan. Many new clients found our SBDC services during the pandemic, and many of those have continued to find ongoing value thereafter, but there are still entrepreneurs and business owners looking to grow whom are unaware of what is available to them. Our tendency has been to move on to serving the next client, which can leave little time for outreach to increase awareness of our program.   

Epicenter: What else do you want the community to know about the Michigan SBDC at Mid Michigan College?
Fox: In Isabella County we have a tremendous ecosystem of partners and service providers that work really well together with the common goal of helping businesses succeed. 

If you have a business idea yourself, or if you are running a business and are looking to improve or grow in some capacity we’d be happy to discuss how/if our assistance might fit for your specific situation. If we are not the best fit, we can typically help you identify someone that can help.

To schedule with an SBDC Consultant, please register at http://bit.ly/SBDCrfc. General inquiries can be directed to sbdc@midmich.edu or by phone at 989-317-4623. General information can be found at www.MichiganSBDC.org
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Read more articles by Courtney Jerome.

With 15 years of professional media experience, Courtney Jerome has found a passion for storytelling and showcasing our region in a positive light. She's written stories for television broadcasts, numerous magazines, and digital publications. In addition, she owns a boutique creative marketing agency that focuses on social media, photo, and video storytelling for small businesses across Michigan and the country — courtneyjeromemedia.com. Contact Courtney, the managing editor of Epicenter, at editor@epicentermtpleasant.com.