Caroline Trani just missed being a Colorado native, born into a military family while her father was stationed in Cheyenne, Wyo. Trani’s parents, grandparents and sister, along with several members of her extended family, are all from Colorado.
“I have family all along the Front Range,” said Trani, executive director of the Southern Colorado Small Business Development Center in Pueblo.
Since she wasn’t born here, Trani did the next-best thing and relocated to Colorado for college (and beyond) after graduating from high school in Alaska.
Trani spoke with the Business Journal this week about helping small businesses succeed in her corner of the state and why the heart of Pueblo is its people.
So you’re not from Pueblo?
No. My dad was in the U.S. Air Force, so I’m the only one in my immediate and extended family who wasn’t born locally. I was born in Cheyenne, Wyo. and I lived in Hawaii, Alaska, Colorado Springs and Denver while my dad was in the military. As soon as I graduated high school I moved back to Colorado for college. When my dad retired, my parents followed me back here.
Where did you go to college?
I started at CU-Boulder and transferred to the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, where I got my first degree in sociology, focusing on criminal justice. Then I went to what was [the University of Southern Colorado in Pueblo] and got a second degree in mass communications.
How did you end up in Pueblo?
My parents, when they came home to Colorado … decided to move to Pueblo and I wanted to be near them. I came here for my second degree to be close to them and my daughter was born when I was finishing that degree. We moved to be close to them and never left.
Talk about your professional path.
After college I started working in production for television. I did a work-study program in Greeley for the production unit on campus, and when I moved to Pueblo I worked at KTSC-TV [PBS] and at KOAA [NBC] in the Pueblo satellite office. Back then, between my sociology degree and my TV production experience, I thought I’d go work on ‘Cops’ and have the best of both worlds.
I stuck with TV production for a while and went into sales briefly. … Then I was actually on congressional staff for the 3rd Congressional District. I worked for Congressman John Salazar. …[Pueblo Community College] is the SBDC’s host for this region and the director position had been vacant for about 14 months before I came here from congressional staff. My work in the community meant I had relationships established with legislators and local officials. … The SBDC was looking for someone who knew the community and knew federal, local and state resources and could assist local businesses. I was recruited to apply for the position and felt it was a good fit.
Who do you serve in your region?
When I started 10 years ago it was Pueblo, Fremont and Custer counties. … Since I started we’ve adopted two more counties — Huerfano and Las Animas.
What are your responsibilities?
Our mission is to help new and existing businesses grow and prosper. We spend our time and resources operating in two capacities: We consult and offer confidential assistance to local business owners and entrepreneurs. We also have training programs, which is a big piece of what we do too, and we host community events as well.
What impact has the center had locally?
All of our funds are, in some capacity, used to enhance business economic development — jobs created, jobs retained, access to capital. … We also have an exporting program, an economic gardening [entrepreneurial] program, a contracting procurement program — Connect2DOT is a partnership with [the Colorado Department of Transportation] which assists in contract procurement at the state, federal and local levels.
We probably see about 400 clients a year who actually come in to meet one-on-one. We have 2,000 clients from the southern Colorado region in our portfolio we assist in resource development and training programs. In 2016 we helped 30 businesses start in the region. We did 31 in 2015. We created 137 jobs and retained 124 jobs with those businesses and served 605 clients in specialized training. … Last year we helped businesses secure more than a half-million dollars in contracts.
What’s your budget?
The primary budget comes from the Small Business Administration. Then the state contributes some funds for our Leading Edge Program, which is our Colorado entrepreneurship training and business strategic planning course. PCC also contributes. Our total budget is about $150,000 for training and consulting. … We also have several local sponsors who contribute to our programs as well.
What’s your assessment of Pueblo’s small business environment?
Overall, I’d say it’s business-friendly. Businesses can thrive here in Pueblo County as a whole. The things going for us are Pueblo is affordable, not just to live but also to do business. We have a lot of key resources here and a great support network. There are still challenges getting businesses up and doing business, but overall the community is supportive. … There are resources here that other communities are challenged to find. For instance, you can still find lease space here. You can find buildings to purchase and the cost isn’t as high as the farther north you go. But regulations can still be a challenge here.
One thing we’re doing is working with the city of Pueblo to make things easier for food truck businesses. It’s not easy to do business as a food truck vendor in the city. … We have old rules that are not flexible enough to meet the innovation we want as a community.
Has the small business climate improved since you started?
Definitely. I think communication has improved among the involved agencies — the city, county and metros. There is a collaborative effort to make Pueblo and southern Colorado a better place to do business. Communication has definitely increased and hopefully the SBDC has been a part of that. We established a business retention and expansion program in 2010, which has helped. The collaborating agencies from all sectors come together through that program.
What’s your favorite thing about Pueblo?
The people. I get to work with some pretty dedicated and amazing people. That’s the heart of Pueblo — the people. And I have the good fortune to live vicariously through the businesses we serve, and I get to bring awareness to their efforts.
The people here are good people — and this is home.