Counselors logging lots of hours
Bill Brigham isn’t quite ready to declare the economy recovered.
Brigham, director of the Capital Region’s Small Business Development Center, says client demographics “flipped” during the recession. Whereas work with startups occupied the center prior to the downturn, it was established businesses that sought help during the Great Recession.
And the 60-40 ratio of existing-to-startup clients hasn’t returned to the pre-recession 55-45 startup-to-existing split, he said.
As a result, the hours of counseling logged by the center’s eight business advisers have remained high the past few years — 8,217 in 2013 versus 7,335 in 2009, Brigham said. In 2010, the hours almost reached 10,000.
“The hours per client definitely changed” during the downturn, he said. “We needed to do a more thorough analysis” of company finances and what was ailing businesses.
Brigham’s center is one of 24 across the state that counsel New Yorkers interested in starting a business or improving the performance of an existing one. The centers operate under the auspices of the State University of New York — Brigham’s is affiliated with the School of Business at the University at Albany — with assistance from the U.S. Small Business Administration.
The centers offer no-cost, one-on-one counseling, as well as help in finding financing when needed. Many also schedule how-to classes in business basics; Brigham’s center holds two of those each month.
Small businesses represent 99 percent of all employers in New York and employ 51 percent of the private-sector labor force, according to a data sheet on the state published by the Small Business Administration last year. (The SBA defines a “small” business as one with fewer than 500 workers.) In 2010, the report said, New York had 2 million small businesses that employed 3.7 million workers.
Brigham’s center was among the earliest of the statewide centers, established in 1984; he has headed it for half of its 30-year existence. Recent initiatives include engaging two experienced business executives as “entrepreneurs in residence” to specifically help technology firms and very early startups, and partnering with SEFCU on a character-based microloan program that offers training and money to businesses lacking credit or cash collateral for a bank loan.
Soon the centers statewide will be assisting Start-Up NY, a program offering incentives to companies new to the state or expanding here that locate near and work with a public or private college.
When Brigham and I talked last week, it was just before the government released the January employment report. When the report showed sluggish job growth — as was the case in December, too — some analysts wondered if it meant the recovery was losing traction.
But Brigham’s center remains busy; as of last week, it had a backlog of about 21⁄2 weeks — the wait time for new clients.
While he’d like to see the backlog lower, Brigham said, “The more hours we work with the client, the more success [will be seen].”
Marlene Kennedy is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in her column are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.