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 June 1, 1999

Small business centers’ funding looks safe, but state awaits decision

BOULDER — The controversy over the appointment of the state’s director of the Small Business Development Center program might be much ado about nothing.

Gov. Bill Owens named Mary Madison as associate director of the state Small Business Development Center (SBDC) program in January. But Madison’s appointment worried some development-center heads because of a national requirement stating the director of the development centers should be a career non-political employee.

“That’s to maintain some consistency of leadership in the operation of the SBDCs,” explains Johnnie Albertson, the associate administrator of the Small Business Administration (SBA) in Washington, D.C. The SBA oversees the SBDCs and helps fund the state’s centers. Colorado has about 20 development centers that serve different areas of the state.

Earlier this year, Albertson said she would not fully fund Colorado’s SBDC program until the state and the SBA could agree on whether the director could be a political appointee. But now Albertson is reconsidering that rule.

“We generally left it up to the state as to who they wanted to operate the program,” Albertson says. “It is in our federal regulations that it should be a career employee, but I haven’t insisted that this job description is implemented on a hard-and-fast basis.”

One who eagerly awaits word about funding is Marilynn Force, director of Boulder’s SBDC. Without the grant, Force will lose half of her budget, which covers two staff members, including herself, and printing costs for class materials. Force says she’ll ask the community for money if the development center doesn’t get full funding from the government.

Still, Madison says her appointment is a non-issue. The requirement that the director be a career employee has been on the books since the early 1980s, and that didn’t stop former Gov. Roy Romer from appointing other people to the same job, she says. Madison also has the backing of the district SBA office in Denver, which approved of her appointment.

Albertson said she would decide funding based on the recommendation of the district office, and, so far, Madison says that Colorado will get funding. Her boss, Pierre Jimenez, deputy director of the state Office of Economic Development, says the state already has received the check to cover the state development centers for the rest of the year.

But what the SBA gives, it can take away.

Marsha Summerlin, project manager for the Small Business Development Center program, says it’s too early to say whether the state’s SBDCs will be funded for the rest of the year. “That decision will be made in June,” she says. Madison is more optimistic.

“There’s no such thing as a grant without any authority or control for changing it,” she concedes. “I have no expectation that that’s going to happen. We have a fully executed notice of award, and we are moving forward with the programs as we have been all months previous to this.”

The Boulder SBDC offers classes in business planning and how to start a business. The center and its volunteers also provide information and counseling for businessowners who need help getting loans, or are deciding whether they should close their doors.

Force says she is dedicated to helping small businesses after watching her own father lose most of his life savings when he closed his A&W Root Beer stand. He worked hard, but it didn’t work.

“If he would have had an SBDC to go to, he probably would have been able to sell his business and save the money for his retirement,” Force says. “He walked away from the building that he had built on leased land, and all he got was money for selling the machinery and site. He lost his whole life savings because he didn’t have the access to resources.

“When you’re a loan eagle, you don’t have a lot of time to do the research. When they come to the (SBDC), they get a counselor, they get me, we have a whole system set up to really identify their problems, their concerns, and get them the expert that can best help them right away.”

BOULDER — The controversy over the appointment of the state’s director of the Small Business Development Center program might be much ado about nothing.

Gov. Bill Owens named Mary Madison as associate director of the state Small Business Development Center (SBDC) program in January. But Madison’s appointment worried some development-center heads because of a national requirement stating the director of the development centers should be a career non-political employee.

“That’s to maintain some consistency of leadership in the operation of the SBDCs,” explains Johnnie Albertson, the associate administrator of the Small Business…

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