May 31, 2012

Expand and create jobs | Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — Officials focused on the importance of small businesses during several events in North Central West Virginia on Wednesday. 

Sen. Joe Manchin and Karen Mills, administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration, toured the Robert H. Mollohan Research Center in Fairmont as part of their visit to the area. 

Jim Estep, president and CEO of the West Virginia High Technology Consortium Foundation, gave the group a closer look into some of the innovative technologies and operations found within the building. The participants learned about the data center, which is mainly used for weather modeling and climate simulation, and the space robotics services lab, where robots are being developed to use on satellites. 

“I’m here in West Virginia to visit innovative small businesses and to see how we can help small businesses grow and create jobs,” Mills said. 

Across West Virginia, the United States and the world, tremendous opportunities exist for entrepreneurs to grow businesses and create new technologies, but some times the capita] isn't available and people think that innovation isn't going to happen here, she said. The SB A has the ability to provide access to capital, advice, counseling and government contracts, which allows small businesses to do what they do best — expand, and create jobs. 

'We've had a fantastic visit,' Mills said. 

Manchin said the purpose of his trip was to honor all the small businesses. The fact that this was Mills' second visit to the state in a little more than a year speaks volumes about the business climate and economy in West Virginia and shows how vital small businesses are, 

'It's really the backbone of our economy,'* Manchin said, ''Growing up in small business myself... I understand that toughness and the hard work I hat goes into it. and the entrepreneurial spirit that you have to have. 

'We've got to make sure that small businesses have access to capital to keep their businesses alive and to be able to grow. I'm working very hard in Washington to try to do that.' Following the tour of the Research Center, Manchin and Mills held a round table discussion with various technology companies in the region to talk about their needs and find out what the SB A and Congress can do to help smalt businesses. 

Mills said the SBA is constantly looking at how to drive innovation and how to bring communities together. She explained how the SBA interacts with clusters of technology businesses, like the impressive one in North Central West Virginia, and some of the programs that are available to assist companies. 

Manchin added that training people and developing a skilled workforce is essential in order for the state to go to the next level. The two new advanced technology centers being built in the state, including one in Fairmont, will assist with that concept. 

'This is going to be one of the most innovative and creative technical centers,' he said, Estep mentioned how the WVHTC Foundation provides inexpensive office space, utilities and equipment for new businesses, and is also trying to pair start-up companies with other successful entities. He said the region is driven by the federal agencies that are present here. 

Some of the round-table participants said it's difficult to compete for government contracts as small businesses. They expressed that they're looking for work, opportunities to partner, and guidance. 

Mills answered that the Small Business Jobs Act designates that 23 percent of govern men I contracts go to small businesses. That 23 percent goal hasn't been reached yet. but the SBA is continuing its strong efforts to try to move forward. She said the SBA has an entire network that offers advice and counseling for small businesses. 

Manchin and Mills' stop at the Research Center followed tours of Advantage Health and Wellness in Morganlown and A AM CO of Morgan town on Wednesday. Mills and Sen. Jay Rockefeller were also the keynote speakers for the SBA*s annual West Virginia Small Business Awards Luncheon, which was part of (he Teaming to Win Conference in Morgantown. 

Mills said she was pleased lo be in West Virginia with Manchin and Rockefeller. 

She commented that Manchin has been a big supporter of small business, particularly with his campaign to find jobs for veterans. The SBA is involved in an effort to train veterans to be small business owners, and wants to help those individuals get into business after coming back from serving their country. 

Rockefeller has also been a terrific supporter of small business and helped get the Small Business Jobs Act passed. including some provisions on exports that have really benefited West Virginia, Mills said.

By:  Jessica Borders
Source: Tour’s focus: Help small businesses do what they do best