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Charting a course to a new vocation

Suddenly adrift, some jobless seize chance to start anew by starting a business

As companies continue to cut jobs, the result across the regional business landscape is predictable during a recession: Dozens of people in Washington and Idaho have taken the leap and started their own businesses.

Many want to be their own boss. Many simply decide to test their wings transforming a hobby into a profession.

Organizers of courses on starting a business find roughly half of those setting off on their own choose to stay in a career area they’re already familiar with.

The others are redirecting themselves into totally new careers.

One of those in the second group is 31-year-old Jerry Ladd, a Spokane Valley resident who a year ago earned $30 an hour doing geological surveying for a Seattle company. Today he’s a self-employed sheep and alpaca shearer, getting paid $6 a head.

The company he started this year, Tri-Ply Fibers, provides him a decent income doing manual labor in a job he discovered only because he was laid off last year.

Ladd said he owes any success his company finds to the Washington state Department of Employment Security. After being laid off his geology job in January, Ladd began searching for work and applying for unemployment benefits.

In April, the department sent him a letter, saying he was unlikely to find a job in Spokane County earning anything close to what he made before. The letter said he qualified under a new state program that helps people start their own business.

The state’s Self-Employment Assistance Program, launched in 2008, has so far identified 47,000 state workers who, like Ladd, face tough odds in finding any job equal to the one they lost. Of those, about 1,701 reside in Spokane County.

Ladd took advantage of SEAP to meet with David Heyamoto, who heads the Spokane-based SNAP Financial Access program, designed to help new business owners get financing or business assistance.

Heyamoto helped Ladd write a business plan and set up his bookkeeping system. By June, the shearing business was off and running. Ladd had 35 clients by the end of the summer, he said.

In addition to shearing wool, Ladd also spins wool into yarn in his basement. Some of the yarn goes back to the livestock owners who hire him. Some of the yarn he keeps to sell on his Web site,

Ladd admits his career leap to livestock shearing was a radical one; no one of his family ever practiced that skill, to his knowledge.

“Mostly, I’m really enjoying it right now,” he said. “It’s hard work, but as long as the market is still there and my body holds up, I’ll keep doing it.”

As opposed to taking a leap, some have to play it safe.

When Coralie Myers, a commercial loan officer for Spokane’s Wheatland Bank, lost her job in March, she didn’t for a moment consider jumping to a different career path.

Within a few days, Myers launched her own financial services consulting firm, SBA Business Solutions Inc. After spending 28 years with the Spokane Small Business Administration before being downsized in 2005, Myers acquired a solid background in small company lending.

She helps businesses through financial consulting and evaluating which firms are likely to find success applying for SBA loans or other types of credit.

The sledding hasn’t been smooth so far, Myers added. “If the right job came open, I’d take it,” she said.

After losing her job, Myers decided it wasn’t the right time to test out a new career. “I’m 57. At this stage in life this is what I know. This is where my income potential is.”

Yet John Pederson, in charge of the Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce entrepreneurship classes, said younger workers are not always the ones most likely to redirect themselves into a new profession.

“Age maturity can be a factor in whether someone takes a risk,” Pederson said.

“But at the same time, someone who’s 40 or so may realize they have done the same thing for a long time. And what they realize is they need a complete change at that point in their lives.”

Now in its second year, the Spokane Valley entrepreneurship classes draw a cross section of residents, including those with clear-eyed visions for a business, along with others not sure if they’re ready to push on with a business plan.

Pederson said a more critical distinction than age is between the career-changer who is reacting out of loss or moving ahead from a desire for positive change.

Certainly some factors, such as market research, financial resources and a strong work ethic, are pivotal in deciding if some startups succeed, Pederson said.

“But one of the guiding things that really makes a difference is if the entrepreneur has a passion for what they want to do. That kind of passion will get people past a lot of hurdles,” he said.