People who want to start or improve a small business in Mississippi can find a multitude of resources through the Mississippi Small Business Development Center (SBDC) network.
“I think a lot of people are missing out,” said Henry Thomas, director of the Jackson State University SBDC. “It is one of the best-kept secrets. We see a lot of people through our visits, but many others don’t know about our services.”
“Unfortunately, people going into business do not know there is a Small Business Development Center in their backyard with counselors available to help with everything from a business plan to taxes,” said Connie Braseth, communications coordinator for the Mississippi SBDC. “We have an amazing research library that goes unused way too often.”
The programs funded through the Small Business Administration and local colleges provide one-on-one business counseling that is free and confidential. Help is provided designing business plans, and applying for loans. There is also a continuing series of workshops and seminars on various business topics.
Thomas said one of the most important things they do is provide referrals to other government agencies.
“We are the first place to stop,” he said. “We are a comprehensive consulting office. A lot of other agencies help people do things, but they are very specialized. We have connections and contacts with all the other different agencies, and can tell you which to go to for different services. This referral service is one of the best services that we provide.”
Publications are available on various business topics to answer specific questions. And libraries at the SBDCs include books, videos and other materials useful to business people.
Why should the government provide so much help to small business owners? Thomas said the payoff is a big one: economic development for cities, state and nation.
“There is a trend towards large companies cutting back the number of their employees, and moving their operations offshore,” he said. “It’s small business that is sustaining all the employment growth in our economy. Almost all the growth in jobs is from small business. The large industrial manufacturing section has been reducing their number of employees. The payoff from supporting small businesses is an increase in jobs, income tax and sales taxes—all those things that keep the government running.”
There are 21 Small Business Development Centers in Mississippi at colleges and universities in the following cities: Oxford, Tupelo, Lorman, Natchez, Cleveland, Decatur, Ridgeland, Tupelo, Jackson, Ellisville, Meridian, Biloxi, Greenville, Gautier, Starkville, Itta Bena, Booneville, Southaven, Hattiesburg, Summit and Long Beach.
An International Trade Center (ITC) is housed at the Hinds Community College SBDC in Raymond. About 750 Mississippians received counseling or training last year on issues related to importing and exporting.
“We can help Mississippians find the best market prospects for their products,” said Marguerite Wall, director of the ITC. “We can help them find contacts. We can give them resources to look at other markets they may or may not have considered. Clients can also pick up information about different cultures, languages, economics, and political or financial risks they might encounter within different countries.”
Wall said she sees many of her clients make dramatic improvements in their businesses by going after international sales. “If you aren’t going after business internationally, you are cheating yourself,” she said. “It’s where it is right now.”
The Pearl River Community College SBDC won the 1997 Small Business Development Center Award for the state. The award was based on how efficiently the center used its resources to serve small businesses.
“We had over a thousand people attend workshops last year, and saw more than 300 clients,” said Heidi McDuffie, director of the Pearl River SBDC. “We have a workshop at least once a week on topics like how to write a business plan, how to really start a smart business, and finding money for your small business. We also help put loan proposals together. We have a good working relationship with loan officers in our five-county area.
“We’re pretty much the focal point for people who want to go into businesses. Our services are free. We know what is going on in the community. If you are in business, we are a good resource. We have a lot of good information people aren’t aware we have.”
McDuffie said state residents are fortunate to be an environment where the climate for economic development is favorable both for industries and small businesses.
“We really have the best of both worlds economic development wise,” she said. “It’s a really good time to be in Mississippi. There are a lot more options available to people, and everyone likes options.”
Information about the SBDCs is available online at www.olemiss.edu/depts/mssbdc/.