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Subcommittee Examines Entrepreneurship Development Programs

On April 2, the House Small Business Subcommittee on Rural Development, Entrepreneurship, and Trade held a hearing, “Legislative Initiatives to Modernize SBA’s Entrepreneurial Development Programs.” The hearing focused on several pieces of legislation to strengthen the entrepreneurial developments programs housed at the Small Business Administration (SBA), including H.R. 1838, the Women’s Business Centers Improvements Act.

According to the committee summary of the legislation, the bill would authorize $20 million in FY2010 and $22 million in FY2011 for women’s business centers, as well as $1 million annually in FY2010 and FY2011 for the National Women’s Business Council (NWBC). The bill would require the NWBC to study “the impact of the 2008-2009 financial market crisis on women-owned businesses and a study on the use of SBA’s programs by women-owned businesses.”

The summary states that, in order to move women’s business centers to self-sustainability, the measure also would create a three-tiered funding formula for women’s business centers. The bill allocates 40 percent of the available funding to new business centers; 20 percent to women’s business centers in the second tier centers that have completed their initial five-years of funding; and 40 percent to the third-tier business centers those that have exhausted their second-tier grants.

Speaking in support of legislation to promote women’s business programs, Barbara Rackley, coordinator of the Women’s Business Centers (WBC) of Rural Enterprises of Oklahoma (REI) said, “I appreciate your invitation to appear before you to discuss H.R. 1838, the [Women’s Business Centers Improvements Act] of 2009, sponsored by Oklahoma Congresswoman [Rep.] Mary Fallin [(R-OK)]. On behalf of REI, I am pleased to offer positive insight on important legislation, which will reauthorize the women’s entrepreneurial development programs of the Small Business Administration.” She continued, “One of our most successful initiatives is the Women’s Business Center, with provides training and professional development services for women entrepreneurs…The mission of REI’s Women’s Business Centers is to assist Oklahoma’s enterprising women entrepreneurs who want to start a business or expand an existing one. To date, we have assisted over 10,000 women entrepreneurs to help them reach their business ownership goals. It is safe to say that we would not be in a position to provide these essential services without the support and partnership of the Small Business Administration’s Office of Women’s Business Ownership.”

Dr. Rackley explained the importance of the Oklahoma women’s business center, saying, “I should point out that training and assistance are provided in local communities. By working with partners in these communities, training workshops and networking opportunities are held in locations convenient to the women entrepreneurs, saving them both time and money. Some of our business owners are beginning to feel the impact of the economic downturn. Although they need training, they will not have the extra money to pay for training workshops away from home. That puts even more value on the services of our Women’s Business Center. The majority of our training workshops are absolutely free with an occasional minimal charge for full-day training to cover expenses. These trainings include small business start-up basics, marketing, financing a business, business plan development, doing business with the government, and e-Commerce classes.”

Ken Klotz, director of the Illinois Small Business Development Center at Bradley University; Louis J. Celli Jr., chief executive office of the Northeast Veterans Business Resource Center and vice chairman of the American Legion Small Business Task Force; Jeannette Watling-Mills, chair of the Manasota Service Corps of Retired Executives; Margo Gray-Proctor, chair of the Board of Directors of the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development in Arizona; and Donna Kilhoffer, program manager of the Community Education Council of Elk and Cameron Counties in Pennsylvania, also testified.

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