The network of Mississippi Small Business Development Centers’ Business Assistance Centers, in partnership with the U.S. Small Business Administration, continue to help “rebuild Mississippi one small business at a time.”
Although six of the nine Mississippi SBDCs sustained damage from Hurricane Katrina, many of them were up and operating immediately after the storm, and MSBDC Business Assistance Centers were in place and operating within 1 1/2 weeks after the devastating storm made landfall.
The centers have counseled approximately 389 Mississippi and Louisiana small businesses during this period. Many of these counseling sessions have been with advanced existing businesses that have required more than three hours of in-depth counseling per session.
MSBDC has also filmed a “Katrina Disaster Assistance Training” session that is being placed on DVDs, along with all the forms, and distributed to counselors and clients to assist in group training sessions. It will also be placed on the University of Mississippi School of Business Web site via streaming video.
Plans call for MSBDC to have 29 locations for disaster assistance counseling and training.
Business Assistance Centers located in Hattiesburg, Gautier, Gulfport and Bay St. Louis were staffed by 16 out-of-state SBDC volunteer counselors who were trained in disaster assistance and financial reconstruction. The only cost to Mississippi was their travel.
Some of these volunteers will rotate out to be replaced by others from the 135+ SBDC out-of-state counselor pool being coordinated by the national Association of Small Business Development Centers (ASBDC).
They carry with them lessons learned of how Mississippi small business owners view the efforts being made by MSBDC and other government organizations to help them in this time of unprecedented natural disaster.
‘10 times worse’
Intuit and FedEx joined the long list of contributors to help Mississippi small businesses by contributing $50,000 and $25,000, respectively, to MSBDC to help fund the Business Assistance Center effort.
In addition to the three on-site RVs, MSBDC has added a travel trailer that accommodates an additional six counselors and will add more based on need.
The University of Mississippi, MSBDC and ASBDC flew Coast businessman Richard Harris to Washington, D.C., recently to testify before the U.S. Senate Small Business Committee.
We were also requested by the U.S. House of Representatives Small Business Committee to send another small business owner from the Coast to testify.
In addition, Dr. Brian Reithel, dean of the Ole Miss Business School, Dr. Del Hawley, senior associate dean for the business school, and Marc King, associate state director of the North Carolina SBDC, accompanied me to the Gulf Coast to visit the MSBDC Business Assistance Centers, view the devastation first hand and to meet with and listen to the needs of small business owners in the area.
King, who has directed the North Carolina disaster assistance in the aftermath of many hurricanes, told us that the “damage caused by Hurricane Katrina to the Gulf Coast is 10 times worse than anything I have ever experienced.”
The goal of the UM-MSBDC Business Assistance Centers is, and will continue to be, to help Mississippi small businesses recover from this disaster and grow.
We have learned from our fellow states that no other state has ever faced this type of destruction and we must learn as we go. Based upon lessons learned over the past few weeks, Business Assistance Centers should be staffed by federal and state organizations and chambers of commerce co-located in one place to meet the needs of the state’s small business owners.
No one entity should claim ownership, rather it should be a partnership. They should be viewed as an opportunity to assist Mississippi small business owners and not to justify increased funding and enhance public relations for an individual organization.
MSBDC was operating Business Assistance Centers immediately after Hurricane Katrina. The Mississippi Development Authority now claims to have Business Assistance Centers that provide small business assistance; yet, MDA, FEMA and SBA continue to send small business owners to the SBDCs.
Small business owners are becoming confused.
Mississippi taxpayers cannot afford duplicating the effort of other established, proven organizations, especially in this time of a decreasing tax base. MSBDC has access to more than 200 free highly-trained counselors to assist Mississippi small businesses.
Let me reiterate: the MSBDC embraces the opportunity to work together and help get small business owners back in business. And we don’t want the credit. We are singularly focused on “Helping to Rebuild Mississippi One Small Business at a Time.”
Doug Gurley Jr. is state director of the network of Mississippi Small Business Development Centers, which is based at the University of Mississippi in Oxford. Contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.