July 26, 2011

Resources key for West Virginia’s small businesses | Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — To start, grow and succeed, a small business needs to begin with the right resources. 

On Monday morning, the Office of Sen. Joe Manchin teamed up with the U.S. Small Business Administration to offer a free business outreach meeting, called “Building Your Business, Building Our Future,” at the Robert H. Mollohan Research Center in Fairmont’s I-79 Technology Park. 

The workshop focused on giving West Virginians the resources to get their small business off the ground or to build onto their existing company’s success, and also allowed them to get their questions answered. Manchin’s office hosted a similar public event for small businesses in Charleston Monday and will continue the series in Shepherdstown today. 

West Virginia’s more than 120,000 small businesses make up an estimated 96 percent of the state’s economy. These local businesses are a major provider of jobs and contribute to their communities, and the owners face challenges every day, especially during this difficult economy, Manchin said in a prepared statement read by a staff member.

“Our small business owners are committed to making West Virginia an unforgettable destination,” Manchin stated in his remarks. “The state is truly fortunate to have so many dedicated people who work hard to showcase our many unique destinations by offering our guests the best in service, products and hospitality.”

Karen Friel, deputy district director for the SBA, provided the participants in Fairmont with a broad overview of how the SBA helps small businesses.

“We’re here to help you get started, we’re here to help you to grow, and we’re here to help you succeed,” she said, “and we do this through a number of different resource partners.”

The SBA’s West Virginia District Office is located in Clarksburg. Its main resource partners include the Small Business Development Center; SCORE, known as mentors to America’s small businesses; and the Women’s Business Center.

Friel explained that the SBA is not a direct lender of funds, but works with a number of approved financial institutions. In 2010, the SBA guaranteed $44.6 million in small business loans, which created 2,042 jobs.

The SBA can also help business owners gain the tools to access government contracting opportunities, she said.

The Small Business Jobs Act mandated that 23 percent of U.S. government contracts go to small businesses. In 2010, small firms won a record of $97.95 billion in federal contracts, which met that set-aside requirement. Of that amount, $612 mil lion went to West Virginia small businesses, Friel said.

“There is a very nice piece of pie sitting out there for those people who are interested in learning how to do business with the federal government, learning how to take that next step, and we offer very good workshops and training,” Friel said.

The SBA also runs a toll-free “Business Ask Me Line,” 888-982-7232, which is staffed from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

The West Virginia Small Business Development Center, a division of the Development Office and the Department of Commerce, is the state agency assigned to assist small businesses in West Virginia. The SBDC, which has 15 offices throughout the state, works one on- one with people to help them with everything from exploring an idea and starting a business to finding financing and doing an expansion project.

“Ideally we want to keep businesses in West Virginia, so we really focus on efficiency and training your workforce,” said Vicki Karickhoff, SBDC business coach and representative for the 11-county area in North Central West Virginia.

The SBDC’s “Three-Step Jump-Start,” launched June 1, is a program that provides the foundation for start-up companies, and “Sustainable Growth” is designed for people who are already in business. These two trainings are being offered once a month throughout the state, she said.

Karickhoff said the 90-hour course on “Federal Acquisition Management,” offered through a partnership with Pierpont Community & Technical College, is the place for people to go who are interested in government contracting.

In addition to business counseling, the SBDC helps people with financial assistance, she said. The SBDC serves as the liaison and can prepare a business owner to enter into a conversation with a lender.

Karickhoff also mentioned the Governor’s Workforce Training Award, which can provide up to $5,000 to small businesses for the training of their workforce. After getting preapproval to use those funds, a business can get a 75 percent reimbursement from the state of West Virginia.

Under the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration, the U.S. Commercial Service has about 109 domestic offices, including two sites in West Virginia, and many international offices.

“Our main focus is basically help small businesses here in the U.S. to export,” said senior international trade specialist Diego Gattesco, who is based out of Wheeling.

He said the agency works with beginners who are thinking about exporting as well as larger companies that are familiar with the process. Sometimes that assistance includes helping a small business build a website to sup port potential international buyers. West Virginia exported $6.4 billion worth of goods and serv ices last year, compared to $2.2 billion in 2001, Gattesco said. Of that $6.4 billion in 2010, $2.1 billion came from the export of coal or coal-related products.

“We’re exporting and growing tremendously,” he said.

Exporting can help a business grow and lead to greater demand, and that means creating jobs to fulfill those needs, Gattesco said.

“I alway encourage companies if they have a good product, a good service, to look into exporting,” Gattesco said. “Because at the end, you will be helping the community where your business is located.”

By:  Jessisa Borders