SMALL BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT CENTERS (SBDC)

One of many programs administered by the Small Business Administration (SBA), the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) program is intended to provide management assistance to both established and prospective small business owners. The SBA characterizes the program, which was established in 1976, as a "cooperative effort of the private sector, the educational community, and federal, state, and local governments. It enhances economic development by providing small businesses with management and technical assistance."

The SBA maintains small business development centers in all 50 states, as well as Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the District of Columbia. Many of these centers have satellite service locations to aid small businesses as well. These satellite locations are housed primarily at colleges, universities, and community colleges, but they are also maintained at vocational schools, chambers of commerce, and economic development corporations.

SBDCs are typically headed up by a director and include paid staff members, but the services of volunteers—qualified individuals from professional and trade associations, members of the legal, banking, and academic community, chambers of commerce representatives, and members of the Service Corps of Retired Executives—are integral to most SBDCs. In addition, SBDCs commonly compensate consultants, consulting engineers, and testing laboratories for services rendered on behalf of SBDC clients.

While SBDCs are administered by the SBA, that organization is prevented by law from providing more than 50 percent of the operating funds for each state SBDC. The centers turn to state legislatures, private sector foundations and grants, state and local chambers of commerce, economic development corporations, public and private universities, vocational and technical schools, and community colleges for the remainder of their operating funds. In recent years, non-SBA sponsors have accounted for more than 50 percent of their required matching share at a number of centers.

THE SBDC PROGRAM

According to the SBA, Small Business Development Centers are designed to deliver timely and accurate counseling, training, and technical assistance in all aspects of small business management, including financial management, marketing, production and operations, organization, engineering and technical issues, personnel management, and feasibility studies. Some centers also offer assistance in such areas as venture capital formation, rural development, exporting and importing, and procurement of funding (including Small Business Innovation and Research grants), depending on the needs of their business clients and the communities in which the centers operate.

SBDC assistance to small business owners takes many forms, from counseling on legal issues to seminars on business finance to aid in putting together a business plan. Many centers also maintain extensive business libraries that contain a great deal of information of value to entrepreneurs and small business owners.

Anyone interested in starting a small business or making improvements to an existing small business is free to make use of the SBDC program, provided that they do not have the financial resources to secure the services of a private consultant. Indeed, the SBDC centers regard their primary clientele to be business-people from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds. The SBDC program also makes special efforts to provide assistance to women, the disabled, and military veterans. To locate the SBDC nearest you, see the Small Business Administration website at www.sba.gov/sbdc.

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