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Centers offer counseling, training for business owners
Big Help for Small Businesses

Small businesses are powerful in the Texas economy, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration's (SBA's) Office of Advocacy. The office reported in 2004 that the state's 1.7 million small businesses generated incomes of $96.2 billion in 2003.

Texas' small businesses, defined by SBA as those with 500 or fewer employees, have help available from Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs). SBA launched the SBDC program in 1980, and the administration said it is the largest small business management and technical assistance network within the SBA serving the nation's small business community.

Texas is divided into four SBDC service regions with regional control centers in Dallas, Lubbock, Houston and San Antonio that manage 56 full-service assistance centers across the state. SBDCs offer small business owners free, confidential counseling and low-cost training programs on subjects such as management, finance, advertising, international business and exporting.

"We're known as the 'best-kept secret,'"said Liz Klimback, regional director of the North Texas SBDC (NTSBDC) in Dallas. "So often I hear [from business owners] 'I wish I had known you when I started out.' We can help small business owners grow their business and make it secure and look at opportunities to help them grow."

The NTSBDC serves a population of 7 million people. In fiscal 2004, the NTSBDC provided more than 22,000 counseling hours to more than 5,550 small business clients, Klimback said. Its clients created 2,149 jobs, retained 2,794 jobs and secured financing and loans worth $38.4 million.

The NTSBDC serves clients through 13 field and five specialty centers, which focus on manufacturing, government contracting, international business, technology and risk management, Klimback said. Small business owners can visit one of the centers, or the center will send staff members out to help them, Klimback said.

Rural connections
Albany resident Treca Edington said counselors with the Northwest Texas SBDC (NWTSBDC) helped her learn the "business basics" to open a convenience store with her brother, Eddie. They went to the Abilene-area SBDC for assistance.

"They had stuff we could research about income and helped with a lot of the financing questions," Edington said.

In 2000, the Edingtons opened a 4,500-square-foot store, Prairie Star. The convenience store features a deli, grill and upstairs dining room and employs 21 workers, Edington said.

The NWTSBDC region is primarily rural, according to Allen Carrigo, director of regional operations and support. The region participates in the Rural Enterprise Accelerator Partnership (REAP), a "virtual business incubator" or dedicated high-speed broadband network through which clients receive individual online counseling and assistance, Carrigo said.

In fiscal 2004, the NWTSBDC provided more than 15,800 hours of counseling to more than 2,800 clients, according to Regional Director Craig Bean. At its six service centers, the NWTSBDC helped clients open 385 new businesses, expand 61 businesses and generate 1,401 new jobs.

Creating jobs
Small businesses in Southeast Texas can seek help from the University of Houston SBDC (UH SBDC) Network, which has 14 centers. In fiscal 2004, the UH SBDC Network provided 44,000 hours of management consulting and 64,000 hours of training seminars to almost 24,000 small and medium-sized business owners and employers.

The network helped create 1,693 new jobs and save 2,393 jobs and helped clients generate $60.8 million in start-up and expansion capital.

"Our number one strategic goal is to help entrepreneurs and small business owners create economic impact or create new jobs," said Mike Young, executive director of the UH SBDC Network.

When a client first contacts the network, counselors help them determine where they are in their business planning, Young said.

"Most centers offer what we call a pre-business workshop to help them understand the skills required to start and operate a business, the capital requirements and the time commitments," Young said.

Help with financing is one of the main reasons customers come to a UH SBDC center, Young said.

Shirley George and her husband, Clarence, sought help from the UH SBDC in starting their Houston-based business, Playhouse Cuts, in 2001. The hair salon serves adults but specializes in children's haircuts and features a playhouse, seesaw and Nintendo video games. Counselors helped the couple develop a business plan, George said.

"They gave us some guides and told us what to do and how to do it," George said.

George said her long-term goal is to franchise her concept and take it nationwide.

Helping businesses grow
The South-West Texas Border SBDC (SWTXB SBDC) includes 10 centers throughout its region and two specialty centers in San Antonio. In fiscal 2004, SWTXB SBDC counselors spent more than 52,000 hours counseling 7,127 clients.

One of those clients, Amy Porter, visited the El Paso Community College SBDC, part of the SWTXB region, for help in starting a business with her husband, Patrick. An accountant and no stranger to finance, Porter said she found working with Larry Madrid, an SBDC business development specialist, helpful.

"He walked through the SBA packet with us and what the bank would be looking for, what the SBA would require," Porter said.

The Porters secured a $66,000 SBA loan to open Porter Corporate Interiors in 2004. Porter said she will work with the SBDC to help her business grow.

"I highly recommend it to any business owner," she said. "It's a great resource."

Karen Hudgins