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Tax seminar, development center busy as economy goes sour

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Most businesses gauge a bad economy by a slowdown in the number of customers they see come through the doors.

For Deana Kerby, the opposite is true.

Kerby is a business development specialist at the Small Business Development Center at Rose State College in Midwest City. It is one of 15 such centers statewide that help people plan, develop and finance a small business.

``People in this type of economy will do one of two things _ they will either start a small business or go back to school,'' she said.

Before they start their own businesses, some will end up at a business tax seminar hosted by Dewey Brandon.

Brandon, a spokesman for the Oklahoma Tax Commission, goes around the state sorting out the bureaucratic hurdles new business owners must clear when starting their own ventures.

``I've been doing this for 16 years, and I've never seen it like this,'' Brandon said. ``We had to turn people away.''

He explains the difference between a partnership and a limited liability company, the importance of travel ledgers and FICA.

His workshops in Tulsa, where ``all the companies are laying people off,'' have drawn up to 60 people at a time, Brandon said.

``A lot of people are saying, 'You know what? I'm going to start my own business.'''

About 50 percent of those who come to Kerby's center start their own businesses. Although she doesn't know how many succeed, 85 percent of small businesses fail in the first three years.

Kerby sees prospective entrepreneurs in all areas, ``from construction to hair salons to lawn services. Anything and everything.''

Brandon said the Tax Commission launched the seminars in 1990 because many fledgling businesses were failing in the first six months. Owners didn't understand the labyrinth of taxes, filings and legalities. The seminars cut the failure rate in half, he said.

For some, tax seminars or business development centers are a dose of reality that may turn them away.

But those like Will Skillern, a 19-year-old Blanchard man with hopes of starting a karaoke business with his mother, are undeterred. He plans to keep his full-time day job in an office.

``It's just extra money on the side,'' he said of the venture.
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