The MSBDC’s lead operation and administrative offices are housed at the University of Mississippi and there are seven centers and 17 counselors statewide. Over the last three fiscal years, from 2010 to 2012, they have worked with 5,999 clients.
That assistance helped 489 businesses get started, created 1,939 jobs, retained 2,491 jobs and brought in $173.3 million of fresh capital to the state.
During that same time, MSBDCs earned an “excellent” satisfaction rating by 88 percent of respondents.
“By having created new jobs and saved the others, the state saved $14.8 million in unemployment compensation,” said Robert Forster, chief operations officer of MSBDC. “The clients we worked with report sales are $1.214 billion so the benefit to the state in tax revenues is also substantial.”
In spite of their record, the centers are “the best kept secret in Mississippi,” Forster said.
The MSBDCs get clients from referrals by bankers, mayors or chambers of commerce who know potential entrepreneurs.
“We try very hard to market ourselves but we don’t have the resources for a marketing program. Our aspiration is to increase our funding so that we can go out and hire double our counseling force. To really cover the state we should be funded to be able to pay maybe 60 to 70 counselors.”
Each state receives federal funds for MSBDCs based on population. In Mississippi those funds are matched in cash or in kind on a 50-50 basis.
“We receive funds from the universities and community colleges where we have centers. We receive some additional money from Ole Miss and we receive approximately $238,000 from the state through the IHL as a line item.”
The SBA has oversight of the centers and the staffs work closely together, he said.
Forster attributes the success of the Mississippi program to the personnel.
“As far as the counselors we hire, these are people who are retired and who want to give back to society and their state. Salaries are nothing to write home about but the satisfaction of seeing people be successful is very motivating. It’s part of our strategy.”
As for clients, he said, “Anybody can walk in our door. There are no charges for our services.”
MSBDCs offer assistance to develop business plans, create market strategy, get access to capital, improve management skills, analyze financial records among other services.
Clients are given confidentiality but Forster said many are restaurant owners, either new or established, who attend classes and workshops.
Other success stories include minority families who have bought rundown motel properties and built a profitable chains.
And, not surprisingly in Mississippi, clients have included outfitters whose business cater to hunters, fishermen and campers.
“We cover the waterfront,” Forster said.
Forster is optimistic about where Mississippi. “We’re very bullish on the future. We are a state of small businesses and I don’t see that changing. That type of continuation of small business in small communities will be here for many more generations.”
As manufacturing returns to the U.S., he said, the SBDCs will be able to work with small business owners to supply the needs of those manufacturing firms relocating back to America.
Also, as more small businesses introduce technology to run more effectively, he said, “We’re geared up with professional training to be able to counsel them about their technology needs.”
MSBDCs also work with the IRS to help small business owners take advantage of tax policies that are beneficial to them.
“We’re proud of what we do,” Forster said. “It’s low key but citizens get a good bang for their buck.”