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IUP center focuses on family businesses

| Thursday, March 28, 2013, 8:55 p.m.

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, family-owned enterprises account for about 90 percent of all businesses in North America and 62 percent of total U.S. employment.

Studies also show that it is becoming less common for those businesses to be passed down to the next generation of the founding family, whether due to a lack of interest or economic concerns. Many of the businesses may not even have a succession plan in place.

The Center for Family Business at Indiana University of Pennsylvania strives to keep the area's family-owned businesses informed on a range of critical topics, thereby increasing their chances of survival and succession of leadership to the next generation.

Founded in 1997, the center is part of the university's Eberly College of Business and Information Technology.

“The mission for the center is to support those family business owners in the region through educational forums,” according to center director Ellen Ruddock, an IUP graduate and a retired entrepreneur. In addition to succession planning, forum topics may include evaluation, communication, leadership and conflict — “all of those areas that are certainly unique to families and the family business, but on occasion, areas that are of interest to all business owners,” Ruddock said.

Forums may include roundtable discussions and expert panels, but they always provide an opportunity for business owners to pose questions, she explained.

The center offers up to six forums each year that are open to all business owners but not to those hoping to sell a product, service or idea to attendees. “They're coming to learn, not to be solicited for business,” Ruddock pointed out.

Ruddock said another part of the center's mission is to raise awareness of the importance of family businesses in America. As part of that goal, each year the center presents its annual Family Business Award to a regional company that has excelled in its industry and has made significant contributions to its community.

This year, the award will be presented on April 25 to the Sheetz chain of convenience stores, named for the family that founded it in 1952 and still operates it from corporate offices in Altoona. The award program will begin at 9:30 a.m. in the Eberly College auditorium and will be followed by a tree-planting ceremony in IUP's Allegheny Arboretum.

Nominations for the award can be submitted at any time, Ruddock said, and are screened by a committee and by Dr. Robert C. Camp, dean of the Eberly College.

The IUP Center for Family Business is just one of seven entities that make up the Eberly College's Management Services Group. Others in the group include the Small Business Incubator, Small Business Institute, Small Business Development Center, Government Contracting Assistance Program, Excellence in Entrepreneurial Leadership Center and the WEDnetPA GFT Grant Program. Most offer services and resources for free or at a minimal cost to businesses that come to them for assistance.

Part of Ruddock's job is to confer with family-owned businesses that come to the center for aid, listening to their specific issues and referring them to resources the university has at its disposal, or to a center partner that may be able to provide more focused input.

“We provide consulting on an as-needed basis, and we connect them with resources we can recommend for their use,” said Ruddock, who is the founder and operator of both a successful retail business and a consulting firm she has since sold.

She noted IUP's Small Business Institute can conduct research or surveys to help businesses with marketing or growth while the Small Business Development Center can help with development of a business plan.

Ruddock noted studies have shown that family-owned enterprises produce 50 percent or more of the gross domestic product, “So when you consider that family-owned businesses are really a driving force in our economy, that's why we want to raise awareness of the importance of family-owned businesses and encourage the succession of family-owned businesses to preserve jobs,” she said.

On April 9, the IUP Center for Family Business will offer the workshop “Are You Thriving or Trapped in the Family Business?” presented by Michael A. Klein, a consultant, researcher and author. Klein will focus on key issues that undermine family member performance and can damage a business.

The workshop will be held at Indiana's Rustic Lodge, with a 5 p.m. networking session followed by dinner at 5:30 p.m. and the presentation at 6 p.m. The cost is $30 per participant. Registration is required by calling 724-357-2323.

Free membership in the Center for Family Business is open to business owners and their adult children, as well as extended family members who may be involved in the business. Managers and professional advisers who may not be part of the family are also welcome to attend seminars and workshops.

The Center for Family Business is located in Room 324 of the Eberly College, 664 Pratt Dr., Indiana. For more information, call 724-357-2323 or visit

Gina DelFavero is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2915 or

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