WASHINGTON, D.C. – A Congressional panel today took the first step toward updating key Small Business Administration (SBA) programs that provide counseling and technical services to budding and established entrepreneurs. During a hearing of the House Small Business Committee’s Subcommittee on Rural Development, Entrepreneurship and Trade, Members of Congress said that the SBA’s Entrepreneurship Development (ED) programs are needed now, more than ever, given the economic strains that small businesses currently face.
“The Small Business Administration’s Entrepreneurial Development Programs offer services that can make the difference between whether a new venture fails or gets off the ground and creates new jobs,” said Subcommittee Chairman Heath Shuler (D-NC). “Businesses that use these services are twice as likely to succeed. The legislation we are considering today will strengthen these programs, so that entrepreneurs can access additional information and services that help them build their businesses.”
The legislative hearing examined seven pieces of legislation, each of which is designed to improve ED Programs at the SBA. The SBA’s ED Programs are administered through public-private partnerships and offer a range of services to small business owners and, in some cases, focus resources and assistance on specialized groups of entrepreneurs. The agency’s Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) foster economic development through a network of one-stop business assistance centers that offer financial, marketing, production, planning and technical guidance. Women’s Business Centers (WBCs) target Entrepreneurial Development services to female entrepreneurs, while the SBA’s Office of Veterans Business Development provides customized assistance for veterans. It is estimated that in 2008 alone, ED programs pumped $7.2 billion into communities across the country and laid the groundwork for 73,000 new jobs.
“The SBA’s portfolio of entrepreneurial development services can assist all entrepreneurs in developing and executing business plans and spurring job growth,” Shuler noted. “These programs also help business owners with unique challenges, like veterans, Native Americans and women.”
In addition to reauthorizing and strengthening existing ED Programs at the agency, the package would create new grant programs for Native American business owners and veteran entrepreneurs. The legislation would also expand access to entrepreneurial development program materials through the use of technology. The bill would expand the use of distant learning to make it easier for business owners to remotely access entrepreneurial training content.
“In rural districts, like mine, the nearest Small Business Development Center can often be far away,” Shuler said. “The legislation the Committee examined today would harness current technology to better assist small business owners in rural and underserved areas.”
The SBA’s Entrepreneurial Development programs have not been updated since 1999, making the legislation potentially the most significant update to the SBA in a decade. The bills are expected to be marked-up in the Subcommittee following the Easter District Work Period, after which they would be considered by the entire House Small Business Committee.