Small Business Development Center celebrates 20 years of service

The Small Business Development Center’s impact on Staten Island is undeniable. Since 1993, the SBDC has worked directly with more than 6,300 businesses and has created or saved more than 4,300 jobs.

It has played a crucial role in kick-starting, stabilizing and fueling new and established businesses through its support services, provided free of charge at its original location at the College of Staten Island.

Its success led to the opening of a satellite location two years ago in Brooklyn and a third location at the Empire State Bank branch on Railroad Avenue in May.

On Oct. 2, the SBDC celebrated its 20th anniversary at a meeting at the Grand Oaks Country Club with its theme of the “three E’s” — education, entrepreneurship and economic development.

“The plan has always been to provide a very comfortable, readily accessible outreach to the residents in Staten Island,” said Dean Balsamini, the executive director of the SBDC.

Over the last 20 years, the SBDC has provided support services and counseling to a variety of businesses in Staten Island and Brooklyn that has resulted in an investment of more than $140 million in the area’s economy, according to the organization. Some of its free services include helping clients understand the importance of a business plan, discovering sources of funding, preparing for e-commerce, identifying avenues for exporting goods and services, developing marketing plans, assessing an invention’s viability, and complying with licensing and regulations.

In addition to one-on-one counseling, the SBDC — a program of the U.S. Small Business Administration — also offers a variety of workshops and seminars on a number of topics throughout the year, including business plans and cash flow.

“When you’re running a business, you need both things that are sexy and those that aren’t,” said Balsamini, who has been with the SBDC since 2005.

The SBDC played a huge role in Hurricane Sandy relief, establishing one of the first Business Recovery Centers on the Island at CSI, hosting the SBA in the community, counseling approximately 250 businesses, partnering with key community organizations and opening a satellite office near the affected communities.

“Our ability to focus on providing business owners assistance…was very, very critical,” Balsamini said. “People were confused. People were really upset. They didn’t know where to go. One thing we wanted to do was make sure that everyone was treated with respect.”

Following the devastation of Sandy, there were a lot of relief resources available, but there was also a lot of confusion, Balsamini said, so the SBDC helped business owners figure out where to go for the support they needed. The SBDC worked with governmental entities such as the Federal SBA to make sure business leaders had information on the variety of options available to them to help rebuild their business.

“From being instrumental in assisting with the location of a federal SBA office on the grounds of the College of Staten Island for business owners to interact personally with government administrators, to the opening of a third SBDC location in New Dorp, closer to the Sandy-affected communities, the SI Small Business Development Center has proven to be a leader during one of our community’s most difficult times,” said Michael Kress, vice president for information technology and economic development at the College of Staten Island.

One year removed from Sandy making landfall, Balsamini said the recovery has not ended. He said the SBDC has geared up to provide assistance not just now but also in the future. With three centers set up in the region, they will be better able to make site visits to continue to provide relief support, as well as continuing to work with clients on financial loans, business planning and the “critical” area of developing an emergency response plan.

“Sandy is not going away. The impact of Sandy will still remain,” he said.

There is a perception that the most recent downturn is the first time New Yorkers have experienced tough economic times, Balsamini said. But over the last 20 years, the SBDC has helped businesses deal with other tough times such as the Asian crisis in 1998, the implosion of the stock market in 2000, and the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

“Countless times, SBDC has counseled businesses during difficult economic periods, helping them to get back on their feet or helping someone make their dream a reality by opening up a new business. Hurricane Sandy is just the immediate and easily identifiable example of this; yet there were other hard times in which the SBDC was there to lend a helping hand,” he said.

“When 2008 came about, we had many people who were established businesses who came to see us. They were looking at ‘what do I do next? How do I actually move forward, so to speak?’ The downturn was so significant, some people were just barely holding on.”

Balsamini is quick to point out that the ongoing recovery won’t be the only focus of the SBDC going forward. New keys will be helping veterans — many of whom will be returning to the city in the near future looking for jobs, counseling and business opportunities — new immigrants, women and minority business owners. He also says that marketing, which is changing every day, will also be a key for future business success.

“We’ve tried to be a stabilizing force in our outreach to the community to help businesses. There will always be a cyclical environment to the economy, which is nothing new, but we try to adjust our focus of where people are going in that period,” he said.

“I believe in Staten Island. Staten Island’s assets are just beginning to be recognized.”