I've sometimes heard from business owners that "nobody" uses the SBA's 900 field offices known as small business development centers or SBDCs. Turns out that's just not true.
With funding for SDBCs on the chopping block at both the state and federal level, the SBA has documented the SBDCs' impact in a new report. It appears entrepreneurs definitely visit the SBDCs -- more than 500,000 of them in 2010, the study found -- and the business owners report the resources there helped their businesses thrive.
One of the biggest advantages users of SBDCs gained was knowledge of how to get a business loan. There's also good crossover with business education, as many of the centers are hosted on college campuses.
But the whole system is under threat, in part because of cuts in education at the state level. Supporters worry that no other organization will arise if the SBDC network goes away that would share the SBA's commitment to minority and women business owners and distressed inner-city neighborhoods where new business creation is desperately needed.
The SBA has been trying to increase its support for minority-owned businesses. For instance, its Emerging 200 entrepreneurial development program added 12 new cities in Native American communities in 2010. And earlier this month, the SBA introduced a new online course tailored for Native American entrepreneurs.
Critics say these special-help programs just coddle business owners who need to bootstrap their way up the same as anybody else. By contrast, members of minority groups say that they need the assistance, as they're underrepresented in the world of business ownership.
Whether you're pro or con, it's uncertain whether these programs can survive the poor economy and resulting budget crunch. Just in case, if you want to take advantage of these SBA resources, do it soon.
Should the SBA keep its SBDCs and women/minority assistance programs? Leave a comment and voice your view.