Fort Collins denies Larimer small-business center’s funding request

The Larimer County Small Business Development Center is entering 2013 with less money than it would have liked, and without its director, whose resignation will become effective Jan. 25.

The Fort Collins Economic Health Office hoped to earmark $50,000 in city funds for the SBDC in 2013 and another $75,000 in 2014. But the money was not set aside in the final budget.

Fort Collins is the only one of Northern Colorado’s largest cities not to provide funding to its local SBDC.

The SBDC is otherwise funded mainly through two sources. First, the organization receives a grant through the federal Small Business Administration. Second, every SBDC in the state must have a “sponsor” that matches the SBA’s grant money.

The Larimer County SBDC is sponsored by Front Range Community College and in 2013 will operate under a budget of just under $162,000, according to SBDC Director Deborah Moeck, who tendered her resignation earlier this month.

The dollars provided by the City of Fort Collins would have been used to fund programs aimed at female and minority entrepreneurs, outgoing director Deborah Moeck said, as well as groups like veterans who may want to start a business.

As it is, the SBDC has to cancel one program, called “Tilling the Soil,” aimed at agricultural entrepreneurs. The program was meant to last for 12 weeks, but was canceled because no sponsor could be found.

Moeck was at the SBDC for just over a year, arriving in December 2011. She spent the year rebuilding the program, which had been without a director for eight months prior.

In a Business Report interview shortly before she announced her resignation, Moeck had said she would be focusing on finding different sponsors to fund programs and classes. Now, that job will be left up to her successor.

As the SBDC’s sponsor, Front Range Community College will be responsible for leading the search for a new director.

The SBDC will also have to work on a marketing and fundraising plan, similar to the one at the Fort Collins Area Chamber of Commerce.

The chamber raises its funds through an annual effort called Moving Fort Collins Forward, during which volunteers raise money through special initiatives and events.

The SBDC was still in the process of determining what the appropriate amount of fundraising will be, Moeck said.

The organization’s impact is substantial, at least based upon the 2012 numbers. Last year, the SBDC helped 24 business startups, and influenced more than $7.8 million in capital infusion, according to numbers provided by the SBDC.

The organization also increased the number of consultants with whom it works from three to 32 in 2012.

Also in 2012, a satellite office was established in Estes Park, with seven consultants and workshops being offered. This year, discussion is planned with Berthoud officials to determine if a satellite office there is appropriate.

The City of Fort Collins sponsored a SBDC program called “NxLevel” in 2012, according to SeonAh Kendall, business expansion and retention strategist for the city. The cost of that commitment ranges between $3,500 and $5,000, according to Moeck.

Both of Northern Colorado’s other SBDCs are funded at least in part by cities. The City of Greeley helps sponsor the Northeast and East-Central SBDC, and in December, the City of Loveland committed $130,000 for 2013 to the Loveland Small Business Development Center via the Loveland Chamber.

An Economic Health Plan formulated last summer listed as its No. 1 objective creating “a stronger support network for existing employers, new businesses and small business.”

The SBDC line item offered up for budget consideration was an attempt to do just that, Kendall said.

One of the bullet points in the plan said that the department will work to “strengthen the capacity of the SBDC to provide the small-business community with one-on-one counseling.”

Molly Armbrister covers real estate, banking and health care for the Northern Colorado Business Report. She can be reached at 970-232-3139, marmbrister@ncbr.com or twitter.com/MArmbristerNCBR
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