Small business owner takes advantage of gloomy economy

December 19, 2012

Snapshots of the country’s economy show an improving housing market, growing consumer confidence and an unemployment rate that’s still high – but gradually getting better. There’s no doubt the nation – and Arizona -- are still facing serious economic problems. In part two of our series on economic recovery, one local businesswoman feels good about the future.

Jump Start Jump Start Learning Center on Warner Road in east Mesa. (Photo by Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez - KJZZ)

NADINE ARROYO RODRIGUEZ: Next to the San Tan Loop 202 freeway in east Mesa is a bright yellow one-story building. You can’t miss it, it’s the only structure on the east side of the freeway -- for miles.

ARROYO RODRIGUEZ: The lonely building is the Jump Start Learning Center --  a day care practically located in the middle of a dessert.

SHERRI NORRISS: I’ve always wanted to have my own day care. I’ve always wanted to own my own business, to work for myself.

ARROYO RODRIGUEZ:  Sherri Norriss owns Jump Start.

NORRISS: This was a residential care home and a behavioral health center before I took it over. It had elderly living here before. They couldn’t make it. Their loss is my gain.

ARROYO RODRIGUEZ:  Norris opened the day care center in the spring of 2010—in the midst of an economic crisis. At the time, Arizona had an unemployment rate of nearly 10 percent. And business lending was low. The building and its 2.5 acre property was under foreclosure. But she says the price was just right and the location was perfect --  the former GM Proving Grounds where a master-planned community is now under construction is a mile away. Despite the possibilities, Norriss says many people around her thought she was making a disastrous investment. 

NORRISS: Oh yeah. They thought 'you’re gonna start a business now you’ll never make it.'

ARROYO RODRIGUEZ: But Norriss decided to go for it. She got financial help from relatives and bought the property outright for about $300,000. She even got family and friends to help fix up the place.

NORRISS: We did a lot of the work ourselves, me and my assistant director. We’d come here after work all day and we would tear walls down and re-did. Three months after we bought it, the land and the building doubled

Jump Start Sherri Norriss, Jump Start Learning Center owner. (Photo by Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez - KJZZ)

ARROYO RODRIGUEZ: Norriss says she’s not selling — especially now. When she opened Jump Start in 2010 just a dozen kids were enrolled. A year later, that number doubled.

NORRISS: For a business starting out in this bad economy we’ve actually made a profit.

ARROYO RODRIGUEZ: So much so that she’s been able to put about $1,000 a month into savings. Norriss says the weak economy is always on the back of her mind. So she’s learned to be frugal and acquires supplies for the center through donations and garage sales. She even depends on parents to market her services. Luke Little and his wife have referred half a dozen families to Norriss. Each of their three children have been under her care for the last seven years.

LUKE LITTLE: We tell people. We even say location wise we wish they could be in a better spot as far as traffic, as far as getting seen, but the care we get it’s better than any place we’ve been.

GARY NAUMANN: Great for her and that sounds like somebody who’s found a niche.

ARROYO RODRIGUEZ: Gary Naumann teaches entrepreneurship at ASU’s W.P. Carey School of Business.

NAUMANN: It’s not like she came up with something totally new. She didn’t come up with a new invention, she just said 'I think there’s a need, a hole in the market for this day care center and I’m gonna do it.'

ARROYO RODRIGUEZ: Naumann says today’s economic instability can frighten anyone from starting a business. But Naumann says a good plan, understanding the needs of the area, and a strong support system can help any business succeed -- at any time.

Jump Start Jump Start Learning Center classroom hallway. (Photo by Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez - KJZZ)

NAUMANN: Entrepreneurs have always lived with uncertainty, there’s just a healthy dose of it right now. I think banks are lending again, not at crazy levels, but they’re lending which is better than they were doing the two to three years prior. So, there’s no just going out there and flailing away and hoping something happens. You gotta do your homework.

ARROYO RODRIGUEZ:  Meanwhile Norriss says she has plans for the future. With a new housing developing just down the road, she’s thinking about adding more square feet to her building.

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