Area expo helps people seeking to start their own business in shrinking job market

Local civil engineer Bill Bolduc has lost his job twice in the last year.

Rather than fret about his fate, though, Bolduc decided it might be the perfect time to launch his own company. Bolduc said he's eyeing an engineering niche that few others serve, and working for himself could be his best opportunity to jump back into the labor force.

"I've never owned a business. I've thought about it often, but I've always had someone offer me a great job," Bolduc said. "Why take the risk and not make any money for that first year if someone's offering you a job? But no one is offering me anything right now, so I have to make business for myself."

His interest in opening a startup led Bolduc to the Small Business and Entrepreneur Expo on Friday at South Point. Bolduc had plenty of company: The free show, a production of Nevada's Center for Entrepreneurship & Technology, was set to nearly triple 2008's expo attendance through Friday night, said Dave Archer, chief executive officer of the center. Early registration numbers indicated that as many as 1,500 visitors might attend the expo, which also featured educational sessions on raising capital, marketing, networking and writing business plans. That's up from 600 in 2008. The number of exhibitors jumped from 62 a year ago to 100 Friday.

Archer credited a momentum-building public relations and marketing campaign for part of the expo's boost in attendance. But he also pointed to the sluggish economy as a factor. The recession has forced swelling ranks of laid-off workers to look for new career opportunities, and has made entrepreneurs with existing businesses seek out advice on weathering tough times.

Put Kevin and Carol Farris in the latter camp.

The husband and wife own Henderson manufacturer Royal Seals. Since the recession began, sales at Royal Seals have dropped 50 percent. So the Farrises cruised the expo to hunt for advice on cost-saving measures. By mid-day, they'd hashed out some ideas with the city of Henderson's economic development division, and they'd met with Embarq representatives to discuss how to lower their telecommunications bills.

In addition to city governments and utilities, the expo hosted exhibitors in marketing, law, accounting, banking and education. Federal, state and county agencies were on hand as well. The idea, said Archer, was to create a single source for entrepreneurs who want to expand a business or start a company.

Attendee Sandra Giganti strolled the aisles at the expo, stopping to chat with exhibitors at virtually every booth. She's opening Paint the Town Red, a planning and hosting service for high-end special events, in the next couple of weeks, and on Friday, she was rounding up as much information as she could about forming a company.

Giganti worked in special events for Harrah's until May, when she quit to take a chance on working for herself. She said she's not keen on any other employment option.

"The alternative is to go back into corporate America, but no one wants to pay you," Giganti said. "How do you live on $8 an hour? You can't fight it. You have to figure out where you can go."

Exhibitor David LeGrand, an attorney in the local office of law firm Fennemore Craig, said he's seen a surge in the number of clients looking to escape unemployment or underemployment through entrepreneurship. Roughly 40 percent of the people he assists today in contracts, corporate formation and intellectual property are opening startups post-layoff or post-buyout.

"I'm a big believer in entrepreneurship. If we look at recent history, small business has led the way in job and wealth creation," Le Grand said. "Small business has been a way for people to support themselves, especially with the loss of old-line manufacturing jobs in the Midwest."

Contact reporter Jennifer Robison at or 702-380-4512.