Closing of Small Business Center is loss for community

The program's taxpayer subsidy more than paid for itself in benefiting the local economy.

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The deep budget cuts now being experienced by state and local governments have forced officials to be more efficient. Some wasteful spending has also been eliminated.

Unfortunately, extremely good and cost-effective programs are also being washed away in the current budget storm.

One of those is the Walla Walla Area Small Business Center.

This one-man operation, which was heavily funded by Washington State University, Walla Walla Community College and the Port of Walla Walla, has served more than 2,000 clients over the past 16 years. The Small Business Center assists those wanting to start new businesses or those going through challenges. As a result, this program has had an estimated $32 million impact on the local economy since 1993.

But, despite all the positives the program and its director, Rich Monacelli, have brought to the region, the bulk of its funding is gone. This office will close today.

The state Legislature is now in an overtime session in Olympia pondering -- and pondering -- what to do about a $2.6 billion revenue shortfall. Already, funding for higher education has been trimmed. WSU and WWCC have been pinched.

"That lack of money trickles downhill," said Monacelli, who understands all too well the realities of budgeting.

And while we find the closing of the Small Business Center to be economically shortsighted, it is also understandable. This program isn't a core mission of WSU or WWCC, which is why officials of those schools have opted to put the estimated $60,000 annual contribution elsewhere.

The Port kicks in about $10,000, but times are tough for it as well. Funding the entire operation isn't likely to happen.

Still, the service provided by Monacelli has been solid.

"It's valuable," said Bob Catsiff, owner of downtown Walla Walla toy store Inland Octopus. "I don't know how much of that is due just to Rich's personality and ability to help people. He points you in the right direction."

In addition, Monacelli has been brutally honest in his analysis of business plans. This has kept people from making foolish investments with their money and time.

Monacelli said a large number of people have come to his office over the years enthusiastic about starting a business but don't have the tools or the right plan.

"That's an economic benefit that there's really no way of tracking," Monacelli said. "How many people have gotten enough information to know that their idea was bad and that they would have lost their shirt?"

We believe that this program's taxpayer subsidy more than pays for itself in benefiting the local and the state economy. It also has enriched lives.

Sadly -- and ironically -- the Walla Walla Area Small Business Center is a victim of the lousy economy. The loss to the community can never fully be measured, but it will be substantial.

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