The federal government has granted new independence — and with it, a substantially bigger budget — to a local organization teaching women, minorities and veterans how to launch and grow new small businesses.
The U.S. Small Business Administration's designation of a local Women's Business Center earlier this month is expected to expand the geographical reach of an operation that was for more than a decade a satellite operation based in San Luis Obispo. The local branch didn't even have its own office until 2019.
Norma Dunn, deputy director of the Kern County Women's Business Center, said the plan is to spend the $150,000 grant that came with the WBC designation on offering workshops in places including Arvin, California City, Lamont, Ridgecrest, Taft and Tehachapi. She noted the grant increased the office's budget by half.
"With the additional grant funding this is going to allow us to get to those rural communities we have been wanting to get to in the last 18 months," she said. The center also offers free business consulting, technology assistance training and help with grant and loan applications, she added.
The SBA concluded a nationwide competition when it announced Jan. 4 it was launching and funding 20 new Women Business Centers nationwide. Seventy-five had applied. It was the largest single expansion in the WBC program's 30-year history.
SBA Administrator Jovita Carranza said in a news release the expansion is part of the Trump administration's commitment to the success of female entrepreneurs and women-owned small businesses. (The 136 centers nationwide focus on women but also serve men, just as they also cater to businesses owned by veterans and minorities.)
“Over the past several months, we have seen Women’s Business Centers provide aid to our nation’s innovative and determined entrepreneurs, allowing countless small business owners to pivot with confidence to stay afloat during the pandemic,” Carranza stated. “Adding these new Women’s Business Centers to the already existing network of centers across America will boost timely resources to our nation’s female economic drivers, providing them with local training and counseling.”
Dunn credited a variety of local organizations for supporting the center's WBC application, which was one of only two such designations across the state this year, the other being Monterey's El Pájaro Regional Women’s Business Center. Among those that filed statements of support were the Dolores Huerta Foundation, the Greater Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce and the office of Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield.
The organization has also worked with Community Action Partnership of Kern to offer entrepreneurship classes to populations the WBC targets.
Classes offered through the satellite office range from marketing courses to instruction on branding and website building. There are also programs focusing on government contracting. Sessions usually convene for an hour or two per day in the late morning or late afternoon.
These training sessions will have to be in a hybrid fashion during the pandemic, with some socially distanced, in-person instruction and some online classes, Dunn said.
That's a challenge because groups traditionally served by WBCs often lack access to computers or are unfamiliar with videoconferencing software. To address that, the office is hoping to partner with Fresno-based Bitwise Industries to offer appropriate tech training to entrepreneurs who need it.
Bakersfield small-business owner Larissa A. Mitchell-Reid counts herself among those that have benefited from the WBC's services back when it was still a satellite sharing resources with two other offices outside Kern.
Her business started as a partnership offering notary and tax preparation services. When she decided to branch out on her own, she enrolled in a WBC program teaching entrepreneurs like her how to grow their business.
The instructor helped her refocus the business and set a solid foundation, she said. She has since taken other courses through the WBC and has decided to add bookkeeping and payroll to her menu of business services.
"That was the best move I have made for my business," said Mitchell-Reid, owner of recently renamed In the Black Business Services.
Her experience with the center gave her new confidence in herself and her business, she said. It was also a comfortable experience for her.
"Immediately you feel welcome," she said, adding that her success has inspired her husband to begin work on launching a new trucking business.
The MCSC Kern Women’s Business Center, named after its founding organization, Mission Community Services Corp., can be reached by phone at 567-0410 or email at KWBCinfo@mcscorp.org. It is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.