JFC chair Rep. Dennis P. Williams, D-Wilmington North, decided to speak in no uncertain terms about a proposal in Gov. Jack Markell’s recommended budget that would cut $40,500 from a program that helps small businesses get up and running.
Generally, the first phase of the legislature’s budget process is one characterized by vague statements and noncommittal language as Joint Finance Committee members carefully discuss each state agency’s funding request in turn.
It’s rare to hear any of the 12 lawmakers on the committee declare categorically that he or she will not support more funding here or a cut there, at least not until much closer to June 30.
But at a budget hearing last week, JFC chair Rep. Dennis P. Williams, D-Wilmington North, decided to speak in no uncertain terms about a proposal in Gov. Jack Markell’s recommended budget that would cut $40,500 from a program that helps small businesses get up and running.
Williams said he opposes cutting funding to the Delaware Small Business and Technology Development Center, which received $521,000 in state money this year.
“I can’t support that cut,” Williams told Alan Levin, director of the state’s Economic Development Office, the agency that handles the SBTDC appropriation.
For Williams, and others on JFC, the SBTDC and the branch offices it operates in each county represent a worthy investment of taxpayer dollars, especially in the current economic climate.
Among other services, the SBTDC helps business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs to formulate their business plans and work with banks and lenders to get credit.
The centers also point companies in the direction of public contracts.
Last year, SBTDC clients successfully bid on $44 million worth of government work, said director Clinton Tymes.
“Everyone would agree that small business is the backbone of our economy,” Tymes said. “We at the SBTDC are the boots on the ground that assist small businesses up and down the state. We’re the people sitting down one on one with business owners. We are also the people working with both the business and the bank. We’re also the guys that do the research in different pricing scenarios that will lead businesses to deliver a better pitch and land a state or federal contract.”
In total, the SBTDC’s annual budget is about $1.8 million, half of which comes from the federal government by way of matching funds. The rest comes from the state, the University of Delaware and Delaware State University.
Levin said the administration is more than happy with the work being done by the SBTDC, but they could survive with a little less taxpayer money.
“Their mission is sound and it makes sense. Sometimes I think they should be looking elsewhere than the state for those funds,” Levin said. “There are ways to generate money just not coming through the state of Delaware. In a lot of ways, they could be self-sufficient. Quite frankly, I think they have an opportunity to stand on their own.”
Williams, however, was not convinced.
“That’s not the first time I’ve heard that,” he responded.
Committee member Rep. Joe Miro, R-Pike Creek, said the SBTDC has done a good job of finding its money in other places, and using the state dollars it does receive to leverage more funding from outside sources.
“I think they’re doing a fantastic job with the university getting involved. The amount of services they provide to the small business community, the guidance they give them, the business plans they help develop; I think it’s imperative they continue to be on that scene,” he said. “It is my understanding that they actually go outside the state to get some funding at this point.”
If state funding is cut, the SBTDC risks losing federal matching funds as well, said associate director Barbara Necarsulmer.
“I don’t think we’ll be able to keep it if we don’t get these funds,” she said. “I think [a cut] would cost us federal dollars, but it’s hard to tell how much.”
Tymes also said the SBDTC needs to be running at full strength now more than ever.
“We save jobs,” he said. “Now is not the time to pull back on these critical and much needed services.”