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HJC students cruise the Fast Trac

December 16, 1997

HJC students cruise the Fast Trac

By BRENDAN KIRBY

Staff Writer

When Kathryn Troutman started her resume-writing business 26 years ago, she served a mostly male clientele.

She recalled how she, as a 21-year-old woman, dealt with middle-aged men.

"People would come in and say, 'Where's your boss,' and I would say, 'He's on vacation,'" she said.

Since then, her business has thrived, with offices in Baltimore and Washington, D.C. But while Troutman said she no longer has to pretend the boss is out of town, she said she ran her company day-to-day with little formal planning.

Sensing she needed more in order to expand, she enrolled in an 11-week program at Hagerstown Junior College designed to help businesswomen write a detailed business plan.

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"I did my first budget ever. I did my first cash flow analysis ever," Troutman said. "It was a really good program for me."

Troutman was one of eight women who graduated Monday from Fast Trac 1 and 2, courses co-sponsored by the Women's Business Institute and HJC's Technical Innovation Center.

Fast Trac 1, which lasted nine weeks, helped women who have ideas for businesses or who have owned companies for less than two years. The students wrote a feasibility plan to help "crystallize their concept of business," said Ralph S. Blakeney, who taught the course.

Fast Trac 2 is intended to help women who already are established grow their businesses, Blakeney said.

"This is a very intensive program," said Bea Checket, CEO of the Women's Business Institute. "These women deserve a lot of credit."

Developed 10 years ago, the Fast Trac program relies heavily on guest speakers who tailor the course to the specific needs of the students.

"It's a practical approach. These are not theoretical plans," Blakeney said.

P. Chris Marschner, manager of the Technical Innovation Center, said the facility plans to offer classes twice a year.

"Fast Trac is not just a class. It's a process," he said.

Hagerstown resident Vivian Suffecool, who founded TBL Packaging a little more than a year ago, said Fast Trac reassured her. After her job of more than 22 years was threatened in 1995, she said her husband encouraged her to launch her own business.

The company matches manufacturers of retail packaging, such as gift wrap, with retailers. Suffecool said the Fast Trac course helped a great deal with marketing strategies.

"Marketing's my weak spot. I need to grow. I need to know how to market myself," she said.

U.S. Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, R-Md., who spoke at graduation ceremonies, praised the women and pointed to statistics showing that woman-owned businesses are growing faster than those owned by men.

Bartlett, who once ran a home-construction business, said he understands the tremendous risks that entrepreneurs take.

"You put it all on the line," he said.

Two other organizations - the Service Corps of Retired Executives and the Small Business Development Center Network - helped deliver the course.

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