ECONOMIC IMPACT: Funding could be cut for Small Business Center Network

Published 2:25 pm Monday, December 22, 2014

The Small Business Center Network throughout North Carolina’s community college system could be cut as a last resort, as the Office of State Budget and Management attempts to make cuts through several strategies.

According to Lentz Stowe, director of Beaufort County Community College’s Small Business Center, the potential cut could create an economic void in the county. The economic impact from a community losing its SBC could possibly include a decrease in jobs created, jobs retained and business start-ups — the three primary areas of review to gauge effectiveness of any one Center. The loss of the Network would also mean the loss of the numerous resources and counseling it offers, Stowe said. However, in its 30th year, despite the North Carolina General Assembly’s pro-business agenda, the Network is on the chopping block.

“The impact you see from a center is related to jobs created, jobs retained and business start-ups,” Stowe said. “That is where we are measured most now. Under the current administration, those three have really risen to the top, and we should be very mindful of those things.”

According to Dr. R. Scott Ralls, president of North Carolina Community College System, the System has managed numerous cuts, including cuts to categorically funded programs. The OSBM has said the System must cut two percent, or about $26 million, from the state budget system, with one option being an increase in tuition for students. Other proposed cuts include those to programs like instructional resources and the purchase of equipment, according to Ralls. There are 58 SBC’s throughout the state that served clients in all 100 counties last year, according to Stowe. Last year, the Network aided in creating 1,732 jobs, retaining 1,235 jobs and provided assistance in 528 business start-ups in the state.

Stowe said with BCCC having the largest service area in the state — covering Beaufort, Hyde, Tyrrell and Washington counties — the economic impact from the loss of its SBC could be potentially detrimental. The Center not only aids individuals in starting up their own businesses, but it also offers one-on-one business counseling, quality workshops and seminars and networking advocacy, referral and resource partnerships to existing business owners, Stowe said.

“It’s not just jobs created, jobs retained and business start-ups,” Stowe said. “There’s a lot of other impact, as well, that will just be gone.”

Locally, last year, BCCC’s SBC provided help in starting up three businesses, creating three jobs and retaining 23 jobs, according to a document provided by Stowe. Also, last year, the Center served 62 clients and hosted 42 workshops that were attended by 409 people. Since 1984, most economic development in Beaufort County, particularly, has been through the assistance and resources provided by the Center, and its return on investment has been exceptional, Stowe said.

In 2013, BCCC’s SBC received an award for having the most impact due to assistance it provided for starting a restaurant in Creswell, which created about eight to 12 jobs, Stowe said.

“Why it resonated, in my opinion, is because of two things,” Stowe said. “It leveraged other strategic partners from an economic development standpoint, and it created eight to 12 jobs. When you look at that, and you consider where it is, that’s a huge impact. So it resonated with the people who judged that. I see the impact, and it’s rewarding. I like to see these folks create their own jobs or maybe just an income stream.”