After more than a decade of relying on small business development consulting and training resources based in other communities, Utah State University (USU) is taking steps to revive a Small Business Development Center (SBDC) in Moab.
USU Moab has negotiated with the state SBDC director to for a one-time investment to create an SBDC in Moab, USU Moab Dean and executive director Steve Hawks said. That money would be matched by USU, resulting in enough funding to create a part-time director’s position for a trial-period of six months.
“Because we’ve been served out of a different community, we really haven’t had the full strength of what a SBDC could offer in Moab,” he said “That was really our intent in pursuing a more permanent, Moab-based position.”
The state SBDC program provides no-cost to low-cost business consulting and training to assist clients with all aspects of starting, owning, and growing a business. Services typically cover business plans and startup strategies, management and financial issues, marketing and sales and growth strategies.
Funding for SBDCs comes from the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED), the U.S. Small Business Administration, and through partnerships with Utah colleges and universities around the state. SBDCs are typically hosted by an institution of higher education; the Moab center would be hosted through USU.
“USU as an institution is trying to really leverage our presence in rural communities to not only offer academic degrees, but to bolster economic development as well so there’s and interest in USU to be more invested in the business community,” Hawks said.
The current limits of the position make it challenging to fill, and finding the right applicant is proving to be the first big obstacle the Moab SBDC faces.
“It’s essentially a temporary, part-time position, that nevertheless requires a high level of training,” Hawks said.
The position requires a MBA or other business-related master’s degree, small-business or entrepreneurial experience, consulting credentials and the ability to teach college-level business management courses.
The trial period is due, in part, to a previous full-time SBDC in Moab that was shut-down in the late 1990s. The reasons for the closure of the previous center are unknown, largely because the players involved have changed.
“The six-month period is an opportunity to prove that it makes sense to have an SBDC in the area,” said Ryan Murray, the regional director of the southeast USU region for the Utah SBDC.
“We want to see that they’re working with enough small businesses and we want to see that those small businesses are experiencing a positive impact, such as they’re able to make new investments, or see an increase in sales, or are hiring new jobs—those are the kinds of things we’re looking at,” Murray said.
If the director who is hired can make measurable impacts in six months, Hawk believes the state SBDC and USU would choose to continue funding the local center.
“Hopefully other partners, over time, would match that funding and it would become a more permanent arrangement and perhaps, sometime in the future, grow into a more full-time position,” he said.
The USBDC website lists local chambers of commerce, economic development entities, counties, and city governments as partners for many of the localized SBDC initiatives.
Though neither the City of Moab or Grand County have yet offered a financial contribution toward establishing a center in Moab, “they’re interested in what we are doing and they would like to have a partnership and so we’re working with them,” Murray said.
“We will be very involved in that center,” said Ken Davey, economic development specialist for the City of Moab. “I expect that I’ll be meeting with the person there on an almost daily basis. We want them to be very involved in the Business Expansion and Retention (BEAR) program and in the getting out to different business some of the grant opportunities that exist.”
The BEAR program, which also receives funding from GOED, is focused on collecting information from surveys regarding the area’s business needs. The data collected is used to help government and business development entities, like SBDCs, work more effectively with their local business community.
The local Business Resource Center (BRC), also hosted by USU, was created to address some of the issues that came out of the BEAR surveys.
“The Business Resource Center is basically what we’ve been using here to supply the services that the SBDC will be able to supply,” Davey said.
Although the there may be some overlap between services the BRC and a SBDC provide, there are significant reasons for investing in an SBDC, Hawks said.
“An SBDC brings a higher level of expertise and credentials and they’re able to offer more hands-on, direct services for small-business owners who are trying to navigate strategies for being successful,” Hawks said.
Also, future funding for the BRC is questionable.
“The rumor is that the BRC soft funding is going to go away,” Hawks said. “It’s on a fiscal year that ends in June and we have not received any indication that there’s going to be another round of funding for the BRC.”
At this point, however, no changes have been confirmed. It’s still possible GOED could send out a last-minute RFP (request for proposal) for USU to apply for BRC funding.
In the meantime, the future of a SBDC in Moab currently hinges on finding the right applicant who is able to work part-time and willing to risk a temporary position.
“There are people who come to Moab who are advanced in their careers, semi-retired, not necessarily wanting a full-time position but nonetheless wanting to be engaged in the community and they do have considerable ability and talent,” Hawks said. “So we’re still hopeful that we’ll find a good fit in the community.”
University aims to increase presence business community
“An SBDC brings a higher level of expertise and credentials and they’re able to offer more hands-on, direct services for small-business owners who are trying to navigate strategies for being successful.”
For more information about the USU SBDC director position, call the USU Moab campus: (435) 259-7432