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North Bay Business Journal

Friday, March 1, 2013, 12:43 pm

SBDC re-opens in Santa Rosa, coming to Marin

Hosted by Napa college in Sonoma, Renaissance center in Marin

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    A new office for the federally administered Small Business Development Center program has opened in Santa Rosa, expected to be joined by a first-ever Marin County office later this year. The two locations boost the physical presence for the national program along the Highway 101 corridor in the North Bay.

    Northern California network for SBDCsFormerly called Santa Rosa SBDC, the Sonoma SBDC opened March 1. SAFE-BIDCO, a nondepository business lender in Santa Rosa, is providing office space for the Sonoma County program.  The Sonoma SBDC is being operated in conjunction with the Napa Valley SBDC.

    The Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center in San Rafael will host the new Marin County office when it opens later this year, shaping SBDC programs and resources to complement its existing offerings in business incubation and advising. With that expansion, the U.S. Small Business Administration’s free small-business advising program will operate a physical office in nearly every county in the broader North Bay, while offering services remotely to Lake County.

    Without a home post-SRJC

    Advisers in Sonoma and Marin counties have been operating without a physical office since September of last year, after longtime host Santa Rosa Junior College chose to end its involvement in the program. The college had provided office space and financial support to the SBDC for two decades, but announced that it would withdraw amid declines in state funding for higher education.

    The former Santa Rosa office served both Sonoma and Marin counties, coordinating free business consulting to more than 3,000 businesses and helping to create or retain more than 800 jobs in the five years before its closure, according to the SBDC. As a host, the college was required to match $200,000 in funding from the SBA annually, including at least $100,000 in cash.

    Federal funds at risk

    That federal contribution could have been lost without matching funds from a new host, said Ann Johnson-Stromberg, interim coordinator for the Santa Rosa SBDC and spokeswoman for the SBDC in Northern California. Despite overwhelming support from regional chambers of commerce and other groups, providing that match remained a challenge in the current economic environment.

    “There were so many partners that came together in Sonoma to help the SBDC,” she said. “It was great to see that level of collaboration.”

    Yet, “while there was a lot of interest, there’s not a lot of money out there right now.”

    Napa Valley College looks to expand SBDC

    Napa Valley College, the current host of the Napa Valley SBDC, had been looking for ways to expand its program since receiving a boost in state funding from the California Community Colleges Economic and Workforce Development program. It will serve as official host for the Sonoma County office, providing financial and administrative support and ultimately selecting a full-time director to lead both offices, said Elizabeth Pratt, associate dean of economic workforce development.

    “We’re very fortunate in the North Bay to work very closely with a number of organizations,” she said. “We are moving towards delivering more services regionally.”

    Mary Cervantes, formerly lead adviser of the Napa Valley SBDC, will serve as interim coordinator for the two programs from the Santa Rosa office, Ms. Pratt said.

    As one of the organizations involved in talks about the future of the SBDC in Sonoma County, SAFE-BIDCO offered to donate office and meeting space, said Mary Jo Dutra, president and chief executive officer. Upon the opening of the new Santa Rosa office, calls that were being routed to the lead center in Arcata are now going to Santa Rosa.

    “There were so many entities that were willing to offer their support,” Ms. Dutra said. “We said, ‘If you need space, you can come here.’”

    That offer could extend beyond a planned move for SAFE-BIDCO in October, Ms. Dutra said. A location has yet to be selected, but the lender is currently considering options in Santa Rosa.

    New startup-help center to launch Marin SBDC

    The Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center in San Rafael, which opened last year as the first North Bay branch for San Francisco-based organization, will host the Marin County SBDC with financial support from the Marin Community Foundation.

    The center continues to roll out programs since its launch and currently provides an office for microlender Working Solutions, a co-working space, a commercial kitchen and a business incubator that offers consulting services for startups and early-stage Marin companies. Hosting the SBDC provides not only new federal funding for the center, but also access to certain business data and other resources available through the SBA.

    “It gives us greater flexibility in our consulting work,” said Sharon Miller, Renaissance chief executive officer. “It should be the go-to place for small business in Marin.”

    A combined $215,000 in SBA funding allocated to Sonoma and Marin counties will be divided by population — $144,000 to Sonoma and $71,000 to Marin, according to Ms. Johnson-Stromberg. However, that funding could change amid widespread cuts to federal programs known as sequestration, she said.

    Even without a physical office, demand for services from the SBDC in Sonoma and Marin counties is the highest it has been in three years, she said. The program was responsible for the creation or retention of 252 jobs and the launch of 48 new businesses in 2012.

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