Encouraging Small Business

While some in this region still cling to the hope that large corporations will magically appear on the Western Mass. horizon, bringing hundreds of those ‘good-paying jobs’ with them, everyone else seems to have accepted reality.

And that is that those days — if there ever really were any in this specific part of the world — are long gone. Today, by and large, economic development equates to small-business development. This is what everyone has been saying for the past several years, and that’s what all the candidates for governor of this state would say, if you could get them to stop talking about tax rollbacks.

Small-business development is difficult, and it often takes years, if not decades to see some real results. But that is where the future of this economy lies, and that’s why we’re encouraged by the depth of small-business programs in the region, and encourage continued support for them, especially at the state level, where funding is crucial to their survival.

In this issue, BusinessWest spotlights just a few of the programs that are lending real guidance and support to people as they start small business or take them to that proverbial next level. The Entrepreneurial Training Program administered by the Donahue Institute at UMass has succeeded in helping a number of individuals, many of them displaced workers, gain the skills they need to get a business off the ground. None of the businesses spawned over the years would be considered household names by any means, but the people running them are not just working again — they are entrepreneurs, some of them at a point where they can hire other people.

Another program, the Law and Business Center for Advancing Entrepreneurship is doing just as that name might suggest. Administered by Western New England College and located in the Scibelli Enterprise Center at STCC, the center matches entrepreneurs, usually those with fledgling start-ups, with students in the college’s Law and MBA programs, who advise them on issues ranging from marketing to employee handbooks.

This fall, the institute expanded its scope with a new speaker series highlighting business success stories, as well as a two-day program called the How-to Entrepreneurial Institute, with seminars on such subjects as starting a business, securing capital, and protecting intellectual property.

Many times in the past we’ve cited the work being done at the Scibelli Enterprise Center, which boasts two business incubators and a wide variety of programs and support systems to help those ventures get over the hump. The SEC has seen several success stories, including a cross-border phone book company that was recently acquired by Yellow Book.

Not all the stories are that glamorous, certainly, and not all of them will end as well. There are countless stories about area residents trying to take an idea — be it an energy bar, a sports drink, a record label, or a small restaurant — and make it work. Many are struggling to survive as sole proprietorships, but all of them have some degree of promise.

This is the essence of small-business development. It is sometimes painfully slow going, but it’s worth it. And the key is to promote the notion of entrepreneurship, to encourage individuals to think about business ownership as a viable career option, and then to provide the help needed to get them started — and growing.

The Donahue Institute’s Entrepreneur-ial Training Program has been offered four times in each of the past two years. Funding cuts will limit that number to one this year. That’s just one small example of why, overall, this state and region need a greater commitment to small-business development.

There is some momentum in this component of economic development, and it must be seized. Springfield is now ranked near the top nationally among cities its size in the development of new small businesses, and it needs to stay there.

We can always hope that a major corporation will announce it is bringing 1,000 new jobs to East Longmeadow, Westfield, or Hatfield, but as we said, that is not reality. Small-business development is reality.