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

9 thoughts on “Time to Raise a Ruckus

  1. WWBIC is a statewide economic development corporation, providing quality business and financial education coupled with access to capital for nearly 25 years.
    WWBIC leads 3 SBA-Funded Women’s Business Centers and serves a 3,000 unduplicated number of customers a year – approximatley 80% are women!

    This funding is key to our work – this funding is an investment (not a cost) – this funding has allowed our organization to leverage private support which combined we support – advance – and engage entrepreneurs and business owners each day.

    It is all about positive economic impact – this works!!!

    Please engage – share your support!

    Wendy K. Baumann, WWBIC President/CVO

  2. Julie,

    As always you nailed it! I believe that women owned companies are growing every day…. slowly, one at a time, matter of fact, I think this is the one place we need to continue to invest in order to grow our economy to once again a place that is strong and steady. Women are doing this… one biz at a time. It is time to invest on so many levels NOT PULL BACK!

    Thank you for giving words to this risky move!


  3. Julie

    Commenting from the other side of the Atlantic in the UK, I can only echo what you’ve said so eloquently – in economic times where we need MORE enterprise activity and not less, taking investment funding away from the WBCs is madness. The track record of the Centres speak for themselves and the UK has used the data and results they’ve produced over the years to back up the case for women’s enterprise development in Britain.

    We face difficult times here too, but at least our government seems to recognise the importance of encouraging more women to start and grow businesses – 80% of members of the new government advisory forum for entrepreneurship are women and there is an active series of consultation workshops currently taking place. We hope these will translate into continued positive action for increased women’s entrepreneurship.

    Your WBCs have many friends in the UK and if there’s anything we can do to help the cause, let us know. Ironically the words of Barack and Michelle Obama are still ringing in our ears after their state visit this week – particularly about not letting anything get in your way when you have an aspiration to suceed!

    Jackie Brierton, Women’s Enterprise Scotland

  4. I am so disappointed to learn of this as the US was a model for support for women’s business that we all looked up to. It is unfathomable to me that governments are so myopic that they cut funding to the very programs that have proven track records. I am especially disappointed in this administration for being the one to do so. Having said that, I suppose I should not be surprised because this and other governments in the UK and Canada are the same that are cutting funding to education in general – where is the vision that we have all fought so hard for. I cannot vote in America but my husband can and he would never support this cut. Yes, time to get angry (again!) and do something!

  5. Julie,
    Thank you for your informative and factual alert.
    The thinking behind this proposed cut is more than frustrating.
    I think this ruckus is going to turn into a ruction.
    Emails are flying from here. This simply cannot happen.

  6. Hello Jule, I don’t know how I missed this post and here it is June 15th. I for one know how important WBC’s are to the growth of women enterprises after working for two years with the Center for Women & Enterprise in Boston. I did see that the Senate Committee for Small Business and Entrepreneurship has a Facebook Page. It does mention that this issue is being discussed tomorrow. I am posting a comment on the Page-will also send notes to all the former CWE Staff to do the same. Will Twitter about it now as well. Again I wish that I had seen this earlier-Sylvia

  7. HI Julie I just visited the Facebook Page for the The Small Business Committee and see there is a hearing tomorrow morning at 10 am. It is also posted on their web site. Will someone be attending from the AWBC’s? I will try to watch it as I understand that option might be available. I did post on the Committe’s Facebook Page and also Senator Kerry’s since I worked for CWE when his office staff visited the Center. I do hope this works in the favor of the WBC.s.

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