By JIM WORKMAN
For the West Virginia Press Association
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — There’s no such thing as small business in West Virginia. Every job counts.
While the number of employees at a certain company may earn the distinction of “small business”, the Mountain State needs each employer.
Erika Bailey, state director of the West Virginia Small Business Development Center, told legislators her office is seeing steady progress in helping the state’s budding entrepreneurs and owners of existing businesses to have success through several resources, including individual coaching.
Bailey provided an overview of the WV SBDC, a division of the West Virginia Development Office and the Department of Commerce, during a Joint Commission on Economic Development at the State Capitol on Sunday.
The meeting kicked off the first of three days of interim legislative committee meetings in Charleston.
Bailey shared promising statistics in her presentation, including the WV SBDC impact over the last five years which includes 2,502 jobs created, 711 jobs retained, 655 businesses started, 3,618 clients coached, 2,351 training attendees and more than $117.4 million in capital leveraged.
The benefit to cost per $1 spent on SBDC is more than $2, Bailey reported, with “Long Term Client generated tax revenues” approaching nearly $1.8 million in 2015, the most recent statistical year available.
Getting the word out about the services the WV SBDC offers is improving too, Bailey added. From February 2017 to June 2018, its social media users increased by 232 percent on Facebook.
Bailey outlined three challenges the WV SBDC faces that legislators could assist with when the regular session of the legislature convenes: More funding for start-ups, more customized training resources and the ability to re-claim state employee positions lost.
Business owners continue to struggle with navigating the regulation process, Bailey said. Streamlining the processes would greatly benefit business owners, she added.
Personal experience that grew to frustration led Senate Finance Chair Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, to bypass seeking governmental help in his own personal business, he said Sunday.
“A long time ago, when I was looking to expand my business, the thing that turned me off was the amount of paperwork that was going to be involved,” Blair said. “I was looking at filling out form after form after form. That made me run out of the office. I decided to take care of business on my own. Yes, I grew my business on a smaller escalator because I didn’t have the resources, but I didn’t have to go through all the paperwork. There’s enough of that already in government.”
Blair implored the WV SBDC to do what it could to eliminate that frustration with West Virginia business owners: “We have to make it not so cumbersome.”
Changes have already been made in streamlining some processes, Bailey said, giving examples of minimizing of some paperwork between business owners and the West Virginia Department of Agriculture and the Alcohol Beverage Control Administration as recent successes.
The number one reason businesses contact the WV SBDC remains “funding,” Bailey said.
“Banks should be (hesitant to loan to new businesses) when eight out of 10 of them fail,” Blair said. “A lot of people go into business through a dream instead of a solid business plan. That’s why the banks won’t do that.”
Blair asked what the WV SBDC is doing in advising clients in their risks in starting a business on a dream alone.
“That’s one of the most valuable things our coaching staff does,” Bailey said. “But they take different tack about it.”
Snuffing out one’s dream isn’t the goal of a coach, Bailey said.
“But (the coaches) ask enough questions of the person seeking assistance and make them step through the process. We don’t write their business plan for them. It’s a two-way street. We assist them in writing a business plan so they learn through that process. They learn if they’re capable of meeting the demands.”
WV SBDC staffers Debra Martin, deputy director, and Steve Johnson, network coordinator, also briefed legislators in the interim meeting.
“We are trying to be better at educating business owners, especially start-ups,” Johnson said. “A lot of times, they come to us without a business plan. Until you sit down and put it on paper and crunch the numbers, you may not know if you can break even.”
Blair also charged the WV SBDC to have a “white sheet” available to prospective business owners of the steps needed in particular area of businesses, such as registrations and licenses.
“If you know there’s a list of things they need to know, you ought to have that ready for them so they can make a decision,” he said. “Things that are to be expected. ‘You need to do this, and this and this.’”