‘We all need someone like that’: Small Business Development Center bids farewell to Lennart Erickson

ST. GEORGE — The Southern Utah Small Business Development Center bid farewell to their director, Lennart Erickson, on Wednesday morning.

L-R: Len Erickson and Dixie Technical College President Kelle Stephens walk arm-and-arm to a ribbon-cutting to celebrate the launch of the Dixie Business Alliance, St. George, Utah, Sept. 29, 2021 | Photo by David Dudley, St. George News

Erickson consulted with more than 1,400 clients during his 13-year tenure, making a $44 million impact on the Southern Utah economy.

Dixie Technical College President Kelle Stephens offered a few words about Erickson to the audience that had gathered for Wednesday morning’s slate of events, which included two panels, a keynote speaker, a ribbon-cutting to celebrate the launch of the new Dixie Business Alliance and recognition of Erickson’s departure.

“I used to have an office near Len’s,” Stephens said. “I got to overhear a lot of business pitches. Most of them thought that they had great ideas. Len was the one who had to say, ‘No, it’ll never work.’ … We all need someone like that, don’t we?”

Erickson drew laughter from the crowd when he responded with, “Not all of them would agree with you.”

Erickson watches on as Stephens prepares to cut the ribbon, St. George, Utah, Sept. 29, 2021 | Photo by David Dudley, St. George News

Erickson said he was responsible for feasibility reports, which considered a businesses strengths and weaknesses when their owners applied for loans. While some business owners took his advice to heart, others were more headstrong, he said, adding that unfortunately, many of these businesses didn’t make it.

Among them was a group that sought to start a tire recycling business.

“I saw that they weren’t going to be able to get enough tires, and they wouldn’t be able to do much with the tires they did get,” Erickson said. “They weren’t going to have enough customers or clients, even though they’d already invested in the business.”

Besides the businesses that didn’t succeed, Erickson helped more than 240 other businesses get started, creating nearly 2,000 jobs. A stat sheet distributed Wednesday stated that Erickson had spent more than 15,000 hours working with business owners.

Following Stephens’ comments, Jeff Mather, the new director of the Small Business Development Center, took the stage. Almost as soon as he began speaking, Mather choked back tears.

Jeff Mather gives Len Erickson a framed stat sheet to commemorate Erickson’s achievements, St. George, Utah, Sept. 29, 2021 | Photo by David Dudley, St. George News

“Len worked for one of the worst bosses in history: the White Shark of Wall Street,” Mather said, referring to Thomas Mellon Evans, the financier who has been called one of the original corporate raiders. Lobbying for shareholders’ rights, Evans employed controversial tactics to gain control of more than eighty American companies, ushering in a new era for corporations in 1950’s America.

Mather continued, saying that Erickson told him about a friend’s funeral that was jam packed with mourners.

“Len said that he didn’t think he could get 10 people to come to his,” Mather said. Then, directing his attention to Erickson, he added, “Well, this isn’t your funeral, but look how many people are here today.”

While Erickson will be leaving St. George for Salt Lake City, he said he will continue to work for the Small Business Development Center. As he approaches his 76th birthday, he recalled his dad’s approach to retirement.

“My dad was an attorney in Denver,” he told St. George News. “He didn’t stop working until he was 80 years old. Work kept him invigorated, and I’m the same way.”

Still, Erickson said that he intends to retire within the next few years. Until then, he’ll spend his billable hours helping clients in Salt Lake City to get their businesses off the ground in a competitive economy.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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