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Penn State’s SBDC Celebrates 15th Anniversary

by on October 28, 2012 8:30 AM

Despite the turbulence of budget cuts and economic recession, Penn State’s Small Business Development Center is now celebrating its 15th year of service to businesses in Centre and Mifflin counties.

It has been about four years since major cutbacks were made at the SBDC, and the organization has found a way to not only survive, but also thrive and grow. For example, in 2008-2009, the Penn State SBDC assisted in the creation of nine businesses. In the 2011-2012, that figured reached 52 businesses created.

The mission of the Penn State SBDC is to assist in growing the economy in Centre and Mifflin counties by providing the region’s entrepreneurs with a wide variety of business advice and assistance. Some services are designed to help startup businesses, while others are resources for established companies looking to grow.

According to Heather Fennessey, director of the Penn State SBDC, the organization has helped start nearly 300 businesses since its creation in 1997. The Penn State SBDC, like those located at Lock Haven and Bucknell Universities, is part of a statewide system of 18 SBDC’s.

Fennessey added that the Penn State SBDC is partially responsible for the creation of 1,593 jobs and for saving an additional 474 jobs. A survey of SBDC clients states that the center has helped increase sales by $74.6 million.

How did the Penn State SBDC make it through the tests of recent times? The staff credits the determination and grant writing abilities of Fennessey.

“We have an amazing director,” stated Laurie Linton, educational programming coordinator for the SBDC. “She keeps on writing grants to find us the money we need to provide our business services. For example, she recently received word that we were awarded a grant from the Jobs Act.”

In addition to strong grant writing abilities, the Penn State SBDC depends upon strong time management skills to get its job done.

“We also have interns from the College of Business and Environmental Resources,” said Denise Bechdel, environmental consultant for SBDC. “It’s a great opportunity for them to get some real-world business experience.”

“I do the environmental side of our services,” she said. “I help clients with compliance issues. I also help with energy efficiency.”

Over the years, the SBDC’s mission has evolved to include a greater focus on commercializing research done at Penn State. In addition, it works with student entrepreneurs seeking to start a business. “We try to leverage the assets of the

University,” said Fennessey. “That’s really what distinguishes us.”

The Penn State SBDC hopes to build on a highly successful 2011 service year. In 2011, the group delivered nearly 6,000 hours of business consulting, assisted in 51 business startups and presented 41 seminars.

Last year 47 percent of the SBDC’s efforts were focused on established businesses.

Harry is a correspondent for the Gazette.
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