By Mary Anne Petrillo
Once again, I find myself going up against the odds. I am in Washington DC on a day when the energy is more fractured than ever. The air is charged with emotion on any number of fronts: trucker protests, Russian war footing, the state of the union, and the removal of the mask mandate. Against this backdrop, I sit with my colleagues on the Board of the Association of Women’s Business Centers preparing for visits with senators and Congress to advocate for the reauthorization of the Women’s Business Centers Improvement Act of 2022.
Over the past year, Women’s Business Centers (WBCs) across the nation served more than 170,000 entrepreneurs, leveraged more than $750 billion in capital, and provided training and counseling for entrepreneurs. With the assistance of COVID-19 relief legislation over the past two years (that included additional funding and a match waiver requirement), the WBC program was able to expand and effectively assist the women-owned business community during a time of significant need. According to data released by the Small Business Administration’s Office of Women’s Business Ownership, in 2021 WBCs assisted in 3,289 new business starts, supported 89,697 jobs, and facilitated 1.4 million capital transactions for WBC clientele.
In 2021 the 16 WBCs in the California network (including our network) served more than 15,000 clients––double the number of clients in 2020––and helped create 16,000 jobs. WBC funding benefits businesses owned by both males and females, however 68% of the businesses served in the network are women-owned.
Since 2017, our Women’s Business Center at West Center has served 1,156 clients with free one-on-one professional business counseling. With our federal funding, we started 97 businesses in Mendocino and Lake Counties, created 1,181 jobs, and infused $3 million of capital into our communities.
Acknowledging the impact the WBC network is having in California and the impact on the economy that WBCs have across the nation, Representative Sharice Davids (D-KS) and ten co-sponsors have introduced H.R. 6441, the Women’s Business Centers Improvement Act of 2022. This act would reauthorize and strengthen the WBC program to ensure that entrepreneurs across the country have access to vital counseling and technical training services to take them from startup to success. Some of the attributes of this bill are:
- Raise the grant cap for individual WBCs from $150,000 to $300,000. (It’s important to note the WBC funding has NOT increased for 30 years!)
- Modernize the Office of Women’s Business Ownership to ensure efficient systems are in place to better serve the nation’s growing numbers of entrepreneurs.
- Create an accreditation program to strengthen and standardize WBCs across the country.
This month is National Women’s History Month with a theme that is about hope and a tribute to the ceaseless work of caregivers and frontline workers during the past two years. Hope takes many forms. We see it in the eyes of medical staff, we see it in the eyes of refugees, we see it in the women raising children and providing household income.
At West Center, we are proud to host our Women’s Business Center that provides support to thousands of entrepreneurs. Increased funding for the WBC program will enable us to deploy more resources in our county in response to the influx of emerging entrepreneurs and business expansions. Women entrepreneurs are building diverse industries in our county: medical transportation, water/drought support, forest restoration, AgTech, vintners, and farmers. Let us hope that we can raise the bar for all women as the world gives us more challenges. We need their wisdom and strength to ensure our next generation thrives.