In a quavering voice, Hope Kurz explained how a concerned Small Business Development Center counselor helped save her family's ailing Sun City, Ariz., lawn maintenance business. Next, members of the center's national advisory board, meeting recently in Phoenix, listened to how a savvy marketing specialist helped Marilyn Kovach successfully launch her upscale European pastry business.
"There is really a need out there for this kind of help, that's for sure," said Patti Wilde, director of the Rio Salado Small Business Development Center in Phoenix. "This is a front-line delivery program where people really get something for their tax dollars."
Last year, Wilde's 20 contract counselors served 511 clients. This year they have already counseled 442.
The Phoenix center is one of about 700 Small Business Development Centers across the nation. Supported by the U.S. Small Business Administration with matching funds from state and private sources, the centers are based primarily on college campuses, in chambers of commerce and adjacent to economic development centers.
"The program is designed around the concept of one-on-one counseling," said Ron Manning, immediate past president of the Association of Small Business Development Centers in Ames, Iowa. "We serve everyone who comes through the door, ranging from someone making crafts in their home to someone running a very high-tech business."
California, which has 21 centers, recently joined the federal program after operating independently since 1985. The SBA plans to give California about $2 million to support the centers in 1992.
California's newest SBDC, situated next door to the Valley Economic Development Center in Van Nuys, opened Oct. 28. Roy Muto, center director, said business owners can soon take advantage of a variety of affordable workshops, seminars, free information and free counseling.
Valley Economic Development Center Director John Rooney said business owners benefit from "one-stop shopping" when they visit either center. Although the Small Business Development Center does not provide financing alternatives, the Economic Development Center does. Rooney's group also packages SBA loans for clients.
The national SBDC program was launched in the late 1970s as a way to leverage federal dollars spent on helping small-business owners survive. In 1991, the SBA authorized about $55 million to support the centers. The appropriation is slated to increase to $60.5 million in fiscal 1992.
To meet diverse needs, the centers often contract with management consultants who are willing to work for a reduced rate in exchange for experience and exposure to potential clients.
Gregory Kishel, director of the center at Rancho Santiago College in Santa Ana, California, has one full-time counselor teaching seminars on subjects ranging from cash-flow management to how to write a business plan.
"So far, we seem to serve mostly people who are just thinking about starting a business or those who have just started a business," said Kishel, whose center, which is still awaiting state certification, opened earlier this year.