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Small Business Development Centers providing valuable advice

Oxford — While pre-venture customers — those considering starting a business — comprise the majority of Mississippi Small Business Development Center (MSBDC) customers, its greatest impact is through assisting existing businesses.

“MSBDC provides assistance in almost any area in which a business needs help,” said Bob Lantrip, manager of technical services for the state office in Oxford. “This assistance most often is helping them get a loan to expand their business. We can also provide assistance in how to try to save a business in trouble. If our counselors don’t have the requisite experience, we try to find someone who does. The Hinds Community College SBDC is also an International Trade Center and provides services to all Mississippi businesses in importing and exporting to help them grow and become more competitive.”

Sponsored in part by the U.S. Small Business Administration, the MSBDC network was established in 1981. It is part of a national partnership between state and federal government, the private sector and colleges and universities, and is designed to provide high-quality business assistance services to established businesses and promising new startups, with the objective to create jobs and increase contributions to state and federal treasuries.

“We do not charge for counseling services,” Lantrip pointed out. “We only charge for things like workshops, where we have to pass along the cost of renting space, for example.”

The most sought-after advice is locating loan sources, said Lantrip.

“Most first contacts are from people wanting to know how to obtain funds to launch a new business or to expand or maintain an existing business,” he said. “Many first contacts are from people who want to know how to get a grant. Grants for individuals and businesses generally do not exist except for very special purposes, such as Small Business Innovative Research.”

The second most requested service is helping develop a business plan, said Lantrip.

“MSBDC counselors can help the customer get realistic numbers for their business plan and help get the plan in the format suitable for the applicable loan institution,” he said.

Other MSBDC services include improving managerial skills, analyzing financial records, creating marketing strategies and technology transfer assistance. Workshops on starting a small business, tax planning, record keeping, doing business with the government, financial management and special topics are conducted throughout the state on a routine basis.

MSBDC also helps inventors determine the feasibility of pursuing ideas, innovations or inventions through The Mississippi Innovator Newsletter or by calling (800) 725-7232 or (662) 915-5001.

“Even though the number of SBDCs has been reduced to 10, we continue to provide services in all areas by having counselors at sites away from the SBDC on a periodic basis determined by business needs,” said Lantrip. “We are trying to minimize the time a counselor is just waiting for clients.”

MSBDC offices, including client counseling centers, are located in Booneville, Cleveland, Decatur, Ellisville, Greenville, Hattiesburg, Jackson, Long Beach, Natchez, Raymond, Southaven, Starkville and Summit.

“As funds provided to MSBDC have decreased, SBDCs have had to close,” said Lantrip. “To provide the service with fewer counselors, we developed a pre-venture seminar to provide the information in a group session that all first-time clients thinking about going into business need. This frees counselor time to spend helping existing business and actual startup businesses.”

To increase MSBDC outreach efforts, the organization developed 13 business information CDs and has placed copies in every public library in Mississippi and in each Mississippi State University Extension Service office. Four CDs developed this year will reach libraries soon, said Lantrip.

“The CD topics vary from the ‘So You Want To Start A Business’ used in the pre-venture seminars to complex financial information topics,” he said.

In fiscal year 2004, MSBDC reported 2,533 client cases (startup and existing businesses) and 1,140 pre-venture customers for a total of 3,673 cases. Also, 4,349 people attended 238 business workshops.

All business counselors have business degrees, most with advanced degrees. Many are retirees who work part-time. Two SBDC directors are certified public accountants. In all, they represent the automotive, banking, building, food service and retail industries and government contracting agencies.

“The international trade counselor spent much of his childhood overseas and has an extensive network of international trade associates and organizations,” noted Lantrip.

From 1994 to 2003, MSBDC’s capital investment totaled $619.4 million, which helped create 22,418 new jobs and retain 23,942 jobs. Counselors assisted 41,772 clients with a budget of $24.2 million, resulting in an economic stimulation rate of 25.5 (capital investment divided by MSBDC total budget).

“MSBDC provides an excellent rate of return for the money invested in us,” said Lantrip. “The economic impact is significant and the cost per job created or retained is low. We have streamlined the organization to ensure reduced funds are used efficiently and that quality business services are available to all Mississippians.”

Kenneth O’Quinn, owner of Capitol Drywall Supply in Jackson and a SBDC client since 1994, said counselors helped him create a viable business plan that led to three expansions in the last several years.

“I started selling drywall compound in tubes, with an initial investment of $20,000,” he said. “Today, we’re doing over $1 million.”

John Blann, whose family owns a grocery store in Coldwater, purchased Piggly Wiggly in Fulton on May 31 with the help of SBDC counselors.

“Every step of the way, they were very helpful, guiding me, making suggestions, putting out names of people who would be good to talk with through the whole process,” he said. “They’re real good folks.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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