MASS. - Brian Beland’s small tool sharpening and grinding business has helped provide for his family for more than 20 years. Now, two of his adult children work with him at KV Tooling Systems in New England.
Beland, 54, said the success of his business has been possible, in part, because of assistance he received from the Small Business Development Center near his home. Beland told Spectrum News that while he was an expert in certain parts of his business operation,at the time, he was still a novice in other areas.
“I never had a business background,” Beland said. “I’d been a machinist all my career and when I started my business, manufacturing and cutting tools for the machining industry, I felt that it would be good to have some support.”
Small Business Development Centers, which are associated with the U.S. Small Business Administration, are run locally and are in states from Maine to California. The centers provide clients with individualized counseling, training and business support. According to Richard Cheney, the Regional Director for the Massachusetts Small Business Development Center Network, there are about a half dozen in Massachusetts, including the one he’s affiliated with at Clark University in Worcester.
U.S. Rep. Jared Golden (D-ME 2nd District) is a fan of the work the development centers do and is now behind legislation to increase their funding and visibility.
“They provide free services to small businesses. So, if there’s someone out there who’s looking to find new markets, or wants to improve their marketing approach, (or) they’re struggling to get access to capital, they can go to these SBDCs and get help from people who often were business owners themselves,” said Golden.
The plight of small business owners is a heavy focus for the two-term congressman who introduced the “Small Business Development Center Improvement Act of 2022” in January.
On Thursday, the House of Representatives’ Small Business Committee passed the legislation, which now needs approval from the full House and the Senate before it can become law.
Golden, who introduced similar legislation in 2019, said he’s confident his fellow lawmakers will see the benefit to small business owners this year. The congressional representative’s proposal would increase annual funding for the program by $40 million over the next four years to focus on expansion and set aside 10% of their budget for promoting the services the centers provide to business owners.
“Most businesses have never heard of (small business development centers),” Golden said. “They don’t know that they exist, they don’t know that it’s free to them… So this bill would help get the word out, because (SBDCs) are not allowed to use any of their budget right now to market themselves to their would-be customers.”
Being unable to advertise their services has been frustrating for some of those who work inside the centers as well.
“Yeah, it is frustrating indeed. We have no way of really getting the word out,” said Cheney.
For Beland, who found the centers on his own while searching for business advice, said that they have provided him with invaluable help.
“It’s free help. You can’t turn away free help,” Beland said. “You get another set of eyes looking at your problems.”
According to a 2021 report from the Small Business Administration, 99.5% of businesses in Massachusetts are considered “small.” According to the SBA, a business is considered “small” if it employs fewer than 500 people.
Without knowing about the centers, Cheney said that small business owners who are getting their start may not be around in the long run.
“Eighty to eighty-five percent of businesses that start in 2022 will not see 2023,” Cheney said.
Others who work at the centers, including the Regional Director of the Berkshire Regional Office for the Massachusetts Small Business Development Center Network, the additional funding being proposed by Rep. Golden will enable they to reach more small business owner and help them cope with some of what’s changed amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The pandemic is, has accelerated some of the trends that we were already seeing in terms of the online presence and the importance of that. And the online presence is crowded. So it takes, you know, a concerted and thoughtful effort in terms of how to have your business heard,” said Keith E. Girouard, a regional director of the Small Business Development Center Network of New England. “(SBDCs) provide the opportunity for us to work with companies and businesses like that, to flesh (ideas) out.”
Golden’s legislation has now passed in the House of Representative’s Small Business Committee but still faces the hurdle of approval by both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Still, he said that he’s confident his fellow legislators know how vital the centers are to constituents.
The SBA provides a list of resources for small business owners and locations for local Small Business Development Centers on its website.