Small Business Center may close doors

The Port of Walla Walla, WWCC and WSU provide funding for the center.

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After more than 16 years of service to small businesses in four southeast Washington counties, the Small Business Center is about to be closed due to a lack of funding, according to Richard Monacelli, director.

The Small Business Center has focused on providing counseling and education services to both new and existing businesses to increase their chances of success. A variety of workshops have been offered. which include information on starting a business, writing a business plan, human resources, record keeping, financial management and more.

The local center, with the office at 310 A St., has been operated with financial assistance from the Port of Walla Walla, Walla Walla Community College and WSU Cooperative Extension.

In an e-mail, Monacelli wrote, "The Small Business Center was created as a joint project of Walla Walla Community College and the Port of Walla Walla representing the two primary drivers of economic development, education and infrastructure. Both institutions have contributed funding and in-kind since the beginning in 1993. WWCC and the Port do not have the finances to pick up the shortfall to maintain the program.

"Many clients and professional supporters are very distressed about the prospect of not providing small business advising, advocacy and education. ... The average client load is 175 per year and we have had more than 2,000 clients. But, there simply isn't any money left in these lean times. Tax revenues lag the rest of the economy and there are large budget gaps to fill."

However, he said the value of the program has contributed a great deal to the area in terms of job creation, retention and commerce.

"In economic development circles it is widely known that 'economic gardening,' the development of new and existing businesses in the community, has the highest return on investment of any strategy. The ROI of this office has averaged more than 100:1 over the last 16 years. Client evaluations are consistently excellent," Monacelli wrote.

There is also value to counselling individuals who should not start their own business.

"If the business plan doesn't meet the criteria, it's a bad idea," he said.

The current contract for the center runs through March 31, although he is currently teaching classes that aren't scheduled to complete until May 15. "We're open. I had new clients just the other day." For more information, the Small Business Center can be reached at 527-4681.

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