Small business center in works for Walla Walla

A successor to the defunct Walla Walla Area Small Business Center is expected to open in November.


WALLA WALLA - The return of a small business development center is in the works for the city.

Local officials have secured funding to re-establish a center with a mission to help business owners with everything from startup to long-term survival.

The opening this fall will re-establish the presence of a small-business counseling office after the closure of the Walla Walla Area Small Business Center in April 2010. That operation was shuttered after 17 years in the face of state budgetary cutbacks that affected the organizations that funded it.

The center is expected to open Nov. 1, according to an announcement Tuesday from Downtown Walla Walla Foundation Executive Director Elio Agostini during the Port of Walla Walla's Economic Development Advisory Committee meeting.

Agostini said numerous details remain, including finding a location for the office and a person to run it, and coming up with all of the money needed for next year's operation. But plans are in the works for all of those with direction from Brett Rogers, the Spokane-based state director for Washington's Small Business Development Center network.

Rogers, who was not available for comment this morning, helped land federal funding to re-establish the program after being approached by local officials, Agostini said. He's also been the guiding force in the return of the operation.

"It was obvious that this community wanted it again," Agostini said this morning.

The opening is possible with a $5,000 contribution from the Port of Walla Walla, Agostini said. Another roughly. $2,500 will be needed to run it though the end of the year. But Agostini is confident donors will step forward.

More tricky is finding money for 2012. He said the cost of operating the office is estimated at $120,000 to $130,000. Half of that will be federal money. The other half must come locally from financial or in-kind contributions. Agostini said the Port has committed $10,000 for next year. Banner Bank has also committed $2,000 each year over the next three years. More potential contributors will be approached, he said.

The budget breaks down to roughly $65,000 in salary and benefits for the one-person operation. The remaining money will outfit the office and maintain its services, which also will likely include the cost of programs and possible seminars, Agostini said.

The Downtown Walla Walla Foundation will be the fiscal agent for the center, on behalf of Partnership Walla Walla, an organization of local agencies including the Port of Columbia, cities of Waitsburg, Walla Walla and College Place, Tourism Walla Walla, the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance, Walla Walla Valley Chamber of Commerce, Walla Walla Community College, downtown foundation and Milton-Freewater Community Development Partnership.

Several people from those organizations are expected to participate in the interview process for the center's new executive director, Agostini said.

He said Whitman College, Walla Walla Community College, the Chamber, the Port and the city of Walla Walla have offered to house the program. Rogers will help determine where to locate the operation.

The need for a center was obvious to many business leaders in the community the moment word circulated the former center was closing.

Previously operated at the Port of Walla Walla's administrative office, the former center was supported by the Port, Washington State University and Walla Walla Community College. But with the latter facing cutbacks from the state's reduced revenue collection, funding was pulled and the office closed.

Walla Walla Mayor Barbara Clark immediately initiated discussions about a new center, inviting business representatives and government officials to a meeting last year to get the ball rolling. "I think it's just essential to maintain any local economy," Clark said. "There just has to be a place where businesses can go for support, whether it's to start up or to maintain or to expand."

She enlisted the help of Agostini and Tourism Walla Walla Chief Executive Officer Michael Davidson to research what needed to be done to re-establish the operation. Numerous others in the community also assisted.

In the meantime, the Port of Walla Walla established an online guide to help locals in need of business support. That link will continue to be available at after the new office is established.

Agostini said Rogers is expected to visit the community Oct. 7 for the latest updates on the re-opening process.

Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at or 526-8321.


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