State weighs funding cuts for SBDC, IRC

State funding for two widely praised small-business assistance programs may be the casualty of Governor Benson’s desire for state agencies to cut their budgets by 10 percent.

In an effort to comply with the governor’s budget-cutting request, Department of Resources and Economic Development Commissioner George Bald is suggesting decreasing the current $785,000 in state funding received by the Small Business Development Center and the Industrial Research Center by at least $285,000 before the end of the current fiscal year in June and combine them with the New Hampshire Manufacturing Extension Partnership. The New Hampshire MEP, which offers assistance to manufacturers, is already the victim of a federal budget cut that has slashed its funding from $420,000 to $122,000.

A $285,000 cut in SBDC and IRC funding could have a substantial effect on the viability of the programs because it may jeopardize some $500,000 in federal matching funds, say supporters of the programs.

“The state money we have is a match for our federal funding, so if the state money is lost, we will lose our federal funding,” Mary E. Collins, state director of the SBDC, told The Union Leader.

And that federal aid is a substantial part of the SBDC’s budget, since the federal government provides a two-for-one match to state support.

John Aber, vice president of research and public service for the University of New Hampshire, said integrating the two functions is worth considering, but he doesn’t expect the combination to produce much in the way of efficiencies at first because the organizations are already so lean.

But, according to Bald, no final decision has yet been made on funding cuts — and he doubted whether cuts would necessarily mean a loss of matching funds.

“I don’t see that we would lose federal funding at all,” he told The Union Leader. “I still think there would be sufficient money in there for match purposes.”

The SBDC is a popular program that offers counseling and other assistance to businesses around the state. In 2003, it provided one-on-one business counseling to 1,175 firms in 215 communities. According to the SBDC, 673 jobs were created or retained in 2003 as a result of its efforts.

The IRC — which focuses on matching manufacturers with academic researchers — has measured its economic impact since 1992 at $168 million in new sales and more than 3,018 new jobs.

Meanwhile, Bald said DRED is working hard to comply with the 10 percent budget cut.

He said to reduce costs, 11 unfilled positions remain vacant, and the department is looking at cuts in travel and tourism and the film offices.

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