Time to Raise a Ruckus

As I write this, the US House Small Business Committee is convening a “foregone conclusion” hearing focusing on the duplication of entrepreneurial development services at the SBA. Why is it a foregone conclusion? They’ve already sent in their Views and Estimates letter to the House Budget Committee – not only saying that there is duplication of business development services but recommending the elimination of funding for the nation’s 110 women’s business centers (WBCs) in FY2012. And they’ve denied any women’s business center leader or the Association of Women’s Business Centers the opportunity to testify in defense of the program at this hearing. We’ve tried, and sent in letters and research findings refuting their contention, to no avail.

Yes, the economy is still sputtering. Yes, the budget deficit is a serious issue that must be addressed. And, yes, there is most certainly some duplication of services in the economic development efforts of the federal government (as mentioned in the recent GAO report). But do we really think, at the very time we want to get small businesses booming again, that this is the time to cut programs that provide direct support to business creation and job growth? And do we really think that a “one size fits all” approach to business development will work when business trends in general are moving toward “mass customization” and the “mass market of one“?

We can’t sit idly by and allow budget-cutting fervor to outweigh the need for a variety of approaches to economic development assistance. Here’s why Chairman Graves is wrong:

  • WBCs have a proven track record of results: In an analysis of WBC program outcomes conducted by the National Women’s Business Council (see this link for a research summary), it was found that the federal investment in WBCs yielded a 14: return on investment in terms of business revenues added to the economy.
  • The services provided by WBCs are not duplicative: This same study found that there was no difference in program outcomes of WBCs based on their proximity to an SDBC – the clients they serve and support provided are different and number of firms launched or businesses created are the same. Thus, they are not duplicative.
  • WBCs differ from SBDCs and SCORE in some very important ways: 1) WBCs provide longer-term, more relational support, whereas SBDCs and SCORE are more likely to provide one-time, transactional support;
    2) WBCs provide a variety of services (counseling, training, peer groups, mentoring), whereas SBDCs and SCORE are more likely to provide 1 solution to their clients; and
    3) given that the are locally-designed and embedded within local economic development groups, WBC support is more customized and tailored to the needs of a particular community, whereas SBDCs and SCORE are more likely to look similar regardless of location.

And here’s where Congressman Graves and the GAO are right:

  • Women business owners are “the largest growing class of small business owners in the country.” (Views and Estimates letter, p. 9) Quite true, so why, then, eliminate one of only three line-itemed programs for women business owners in the entire Federal budget?
  • “Without quality data on program outcomes, these agencies lack key information that could help them better manage their programs. ” (GAO report, p. 45). Absolutely right, we need better information on outcomes and impact. We are confident that if there were better information, the value of WBCs would be clearer. An invaluable program is definitely being hampered by incomplete data.

What can you do? Write to your members of Congress – especially if they are a member of either the House or Senate Small Business committees, and tell them that the women’s business center program has been invaluable for women’s enterprise creation, and that this is no time to eliminate a program that has a proven economic benefit. All the ammunition you need is contained in the points above (plus your own personal story).

Fellow womenablers, it’s time to raise a ruckus. And here’s one more piece of ammunition: The Performance, Progress and Promise of Women’s Business Centers in the United States, published by Womenable in 2006.

“Between the great things we cannot do
and the small things we will not do,
the danger is that we shall do nothing.”
~ Adolph Monod

~ Julie R. Weeks, President and CEO of Womenable and author of the Womenabler blog, is also the Chair of the Board of the Association of Women’s Business Centers