BETHLEHEM, Pa. -

When Jim Saunders of Kempton, Berks County, came up with an idea to protect trees from the ravages of deer, he ran into one problem.

"We visited about a dozen plastic extruders in the U.S.A., Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New York and Maryland, and they could not produce the product at a price that we could sell reasonably," said Saunders.

So, Saunders had the first batch of Tree Armor devices made in China, but batch number two wasn't the same quality and cost more.

While on a sales call to Lehigh University, Saunders discovered the small business development center.

"We performed the research to help them find manufacturers in the U.S. that could make the product," said David Dunn, the program's director.

Now, Tree Armor is made in Ohio.

Saunders is just one of hundreds of small business owners getting help with things like research, financing, marketing and government contract information, all free of charge.

Lehigh University small business program

Dunn said helping small businesses grow helps the local economy, but it also helps students get real world experience they can put on their resume.

"There's not many other graduate positions in the university that give you this kind of exposure to real clients that you get to work with on a daily basis," said Alex Rocque, a Lehigh graduate student.

Saunders said it's a service that all small businesses and entrepreneurs should tap, especially if they share his business philosophy.

"I think that the most important part of Tree Armor is an understanding that America can still make products at home," said Saunders.