One of the more interesting projects Creative EDC worked on this year was an update to the North Carolina Small Business and Technology Development Center (SBTDC) strategic plan. Interesting, in part, because of the timing. Small Business Development Centers (SBDC) have been, and continue to be, at the forefront of the economic recovery effort. During a time of unprecedented upheaval, while they were pivoting hard, SBTDC needed to rethink their strategic plan. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated everything. The SBTDC had to move quickly. Their clients were doing business differently. They needed to as well.
SBDCs are America’s nationwide network of Small Business Development Centers. A partner program of the Small Business Administration, SBDCs are hosted by universities, colleges, state economic development agencies, and private sector organizations. There are 15 locations in North Carolina, 21 in South Carolina, and 27 in Virginia. Their mission is to help start and grow small businesses. North Carolina’s SBDC is uniquely called the Small Business and Technology Development Center (SBTDC) because of their additional services aimed at tech companies and technology commercialization.
SBDCs offer a range of services to help entrepreneurs startup and grow a business. Core services are business and management advice, financial and marketing assistance, research, strategy development, leadership and employee development, and advice during launch. SBDCs often have unique, specialized programs such as helping a business understand the government contracting process and export assistance. SBTDC’s tagline is true. They help their client’s business be better.
Economic developers should be connected with their closest SBDC and the statewide network. EDOs can refer small businesses to an SBDC for counseling and support. SBDCs support a community’s economic development strategy by providing technical assistance for entrepreneurial programs, conducting business needs assessments, and market analyses.
SBDCs played (and are still playing) a critical role in supporting small business during the pandemic. They received CARES funding that allowed an expansion of services and support. North Carolina’s SBTDC used CARES funding to hire Business Resiliency Counselors (expanding staff by about one-third) who, in addition to existing staff, served over 4500 businesses, sole proprietors, and individuals April 2020–July 2021 and provided over 109,000 consulting hours. The North Carolina SBTDC also supported 680 disaster loans which included Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) that created or retained 8,000 jobs.
Every year the NC SBTDC helps small and mid-size businesses obtain hundreds of millions of dollars in capital and government contracts. Its clients create thousands of jobs. Hundreds of students participate in internships and projects that help businesses. These outcomes lead to SBTDC returning approximately $2.50 for every dollar invested.
The SBTDC strategic plan update was built upon the input from staff and where they want to take the organization. Their vision and bright ideas are summarized in four strategic priorities:
- Ensure SBTDC attracts, develops, retains, and leverages the best talent.
- Help clients make their businesses better.
- Strategically connect small business needs with UNC System and partner resources.
- Be North Carolina’s recognized thought leader and primary small business assistance resource.
The new SBTDC State Director Byron Hicks said, “Our new strategic plan is a roadmap to solidify SBTDC as the “go-to” small business development agency in the state. With surging new business starts and existing small and mid-size businesses rethinking their business models, now more than ever, the SBTDC is critical to North Carolina’s success.”
The priorities reflect that SBTDC’s number one asset is its staff. The core business service is counseling, which requires knowledgeable and professional staff who can train, support, and develop solutions for entrepreneurs. Not only are staff knowledgeable and professional, but we also found them to be passionate about helping individuals succeed and their role in developing the state’s economy. North Carolina’s SBTDC is hosted by the University of North Carolina System, meaning that SBTDC offices are on university campuses. That allows SBTDC to connect businesses to university resources, including tapping students for internships. SBTDC, like other SBDC networks, is considered to be the state’s thought leader on small business issues.
Through our work with SBTDC, we learned a few things that we think will help EDOs:
- Most small and mid-size businesses do not know about the abundant resources available to them. EDOs can play an important role in promoting agencies and programs.
- Most EDOs do not know that SBDCs can help their office with market analyses and entrepreneurship program development.
- An EDO’s BRE program should include promotion of specialty SBDC programs such as government contracting and export assistance as a business expansion tool.
- When hosted by universities and colleges, SBDCs can be a conduit to student internship programs for existing businesses.
We came away from the SBTDC strategic plan with a deeper understanding of the work of SBDCs. We have known about and worked with the NC SBTDC for more than 20 years. As practitioners, we referred our local businesses and startups. So, we thought we knew a lot about them, but this process showed us there is much more depth than we knew. We also came away with a sincere appreciation for the work they are doing to help our state’s economy recover from the pandemic. Expanding staff by one-third and moving an in-person business virtual was not easy. They not only did it, they did it exceptionally well.
Connect, or reconnect, with your state’s SBDC. Dive deep into their services and learn about all they can do for businesses and entrepreneurs. Your businesses will be better for it, and so will your EDO.