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SBDC at University of Scranton tightening its belt while budget impasse persists

SCRANTON – The Small Business Development Center at the University of Scranton is available to aid entrepreneurs interested in building businesses in Northeastern Pennsylvania.

“The SBDC provides assistance to people hoping to start a business of their own, as well as (works) with existing businesses that may be experiencing problems, planning to expand or who have other management issues,” said Theresa Kaplan, the legislative and community development manager for the SBDC.

One-on-one consulting services are free and confidential, while workshops and seminars are offered at low cost. There are 18 SBDCs in Pennsylvania, and the University of Scranton SBDC provides services to clients from Bradford, Lackawanna, Monroe, Pike, Susquehanna, Tioga, Wayne and Wyoming counties, Kaplan said.

According to Kaplan, of Waverly, the SBDC is awaiting resolution of the state budget process to see how it will be able to offer its services in the coming year. She said that the agency has requested a total of $8 million in funding for fiscal 2009-10 for the 18 SBDCs across Pennsylvania. However, the governor’s proposed budget included $5.5 million to fund the statewide SBDC program and the Senate’s proposed budget suggested the 18 SBDCs be funded with $2.7 million.

“While the legislature is still working on a final budget, the local SBDC has reduced travel to their outreach offices, reduced expenses in their training programs and in other areas while seeing an increase in requests for service this year,” Kaplan said.

In 2008, the SBDC worked with 562 clients. Since the beginning of 2009, SBDC has met with 329 clients. “Some of those clients need start-up assistance and others are looking to secure financing for their operations. Still, others need help with marketing, human resources, recordkeeping and accounting, industry research and numerous other issues,” she said.

During 2008, SBDC clients were able to secure $3,098,139 in financing for their businesses “despite the close down of business financing by the banking community,” she added.

During the first half of 2009, SBDC clients have been able to secure $2,366,000 in financing, “indicating lenders may be starting to offer some additional financing options,” said Kaplan. “The SBDC helps clients develop a written business plan and make financial projections which can be submitted to a lender as part of the financing process.”

A recent addition to the SBDC program – the Agribusiness and Food Specialty Centers – assisted 54 agricultural clients and food processors during 2009 and also established the Northeast Region Chapter of the Buy Fresh Buy Local program, said Kaplan.

“Over the course of a consulting relationship with the SBDC, a business could go from pre-venture to an existing business seeking financing, then need help through the hiring and firing process with employees, introduce new products that require marketing help, switch recordkeeping processes and ultimately seek a buyer for the business when they decide to move on to another stage in their lives,” Kaplan said. “The SBDC is there to provide help every step of the way.”

More than a third of SBDC clients seek help during the pre-venture stage, Kaplan said. The center offers a first step seminar to start-up clients, explaining the registrations and licensing requirements necessary to get started. At least half of those pre-venture clients will decide to not start a business once they have a clearer understanding what is involved in operating a business.

According to Kaplan, many small new businesses see an initial investment of $2,500 to $10,000 by their owners, so those entrepreneurs who choose to not get started and subsequently do not have a business fail have been prevented from losing that initial investment.

“National figures from the Small Business Administration say that about two-thirds of all new businesses will fail within five years,” Kaplan said. “The SBDC is here to keep businesses in business and 80 percent of SBDC client firms are still in business and contributing to the economy eight years after coming to the SBDC.”

“Every person who walks through my door is different from the next, so I learn something new every day from the people I work with,” she added.

Prospective clients can call 941-7588 to request assistance or visit www.scrantonsbdc.com and fill out a “Request for Counseling” form to initiate contact with the SBDC. Pre-venture clients will be required to attend a First Step seminar and clients seeking financing help will be directed to attend a Second Step seminar prior to meeting with a business consultant.

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