Funding hike proposed for small business development centers

Brian Beland’s small tool sharpening and grinding business has helped provide for his family for more than 20 years. Today, two of his adult children work with him at KV Tooling Systems in central Maine.

The 54-year-old said the success of his business has been possible, in part, because of assistance he received from the Small Business Development Center near his home in Augusta. Beland told Spectrum News Maine that he was an expert in certain parts of his business operation but a novice in other areas. 

“I never had a business background,” Beland said. “I’d been a machinist all my career and when I started my business, manufacturing and cutting tools for the machining industry, I felt that it would be good to have some support.”

Small Business Development Centers, which are associated with the U.S. Small Business Administration, are locally run and located across the country. The centers provide clients with individualized counseling, training and business support. 

“They provide free services to small businesses,” U.S. Rep. Jared Golden said. “So if there’s someone out there who’s looking to find new markets, or wants to improve their marketing approach, (or) they’re struggling to get access to capital, they can go to these SBDCs and get help from people who often were business owners themselves.”

The plight of small business owners in Maine is a heavy focus for the two-term congressman. There are 22 small business development centers in Maine, including 11 in the Second Congressional District that Golden represents. Golden would like to see that number doubled. He has crafted legislation to expand the program called the “Small Business Development Center Improvement Act of 2022.”

On Thursday, the House of Representatives’ Small Business Committee passed the legislation, which now needs approval from the full House and the Senate before it can become law.   

Golden, who introduced similar legislation in 2019, said he’s confident his fellow lawmakers will see the benefit to small business owners this year. The congressman’s proposal would increase annual funding for the program by $40 million over the next four years to focus on expansion and promoting the services these centers provide to business owners.

“Most businesses have never heard of (small business development centers),” Golden said. “They don’t know that they exist, they don’t know that it’s free to them… So this bill would help get the word out, because (SBDCs) are not allowed to use any of their budget right now to market themselves to their would-be customers.”

For Beland, the centers have provided invaluable assistance. 

“It’s free help. You can’t turn away free help,” Beland said. “You get another set of eyes looking at your problems.”

According to a 2021 report from the Small Business Administration, 99.2% of businesses in Maine are considered “small.” According to the SBA, a business is considered “small” if it employs fewer than 500 people. Golden said that there are more than 30,000 small businesses in his district that could benefit from this type of support.

“(SBDC’s) budget has been flat for a long time and so we’re looking to give them an increase in their budget,” Golden said.

Experts working for Small Business Development Centers said operating a business isn’t easy, especially during a pandemic and through uncertain times. 

“People have an idea, they have a body of experience and they want to then see if they can translate that into a working viable business,” said Keith Girouard, regional director of the Small Business Development Center Network of New England. “(SBDCs) provide the opportunity for us to work with companies and businesses like that, to flesh (ideas) out.” 

The SBA provides a list of resources for small business owners and locations for local Small Business Development Centers on its website.

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