Missouri small business training opportunities receive low rating

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JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri small businesses may be lacking the necessary resources to be successful.

The Small Business Friendliness Survey compiled by Thumbtack.com and the Kauffman Foundation in 2014 reported that Missouri small business owners rated the state an F in the category of training and networking opportunities. The F is a lower than the D+ that was awarded to the state in the category in the same survey in 2013.

But are these grades an accurate representation of the opportunities for business owners?

Missouri is home to 505,523 small businesses that employ 1,109,463 workers, according to a 2015 Small Business Profile released by U.S. Small Business Administration.

These businesses need training and networking to not only start up, but to survive.

Brandon Kelley, the owner of B.K. Bakery in Jefferson City, is just one of these owners that found starting his own business to hold unexpected challenges.

"One thing that people who start a new business may not realize is that how much time it takes to devote to that," Kelley said. "It's a lot more work than meets the eye."

While small business owners may be experts in their field, owning a small business requires individuals to wear a lot of different hats.

"A lot of times they don't understand the numbers themselves, where the numbers come from, what they mean," said Chris Thompson, a business development specialist with the Missouri Small Business and Technology Development Center (MO SBTDC) program. "They often focus on just the product they are producing and the service they are providing and they don't understand all the other aspects of running a business that they have to get involved with."

Thompson works at one of the more than 20 Small Business and Technology Development Centers across the state. From assisting startups to providing counseling to offering a variety of training courses the Missouri Development Program aims to help small businesses succeed through every stage of development.

In 2014, these centers worked with 2,600 clients and offered 17,000 training programs.

"Startup businesses are going to be the growth businesses in the future. They are going to be the ones that are going to be creating the jobs," Thompson said.

Thompson said it is for this reason that the center's assistance is needed even in the growth of businesses.

The Missouri Development Program is not the only resource available to small business owners. The Columbia Chamber of Commerce hosts a variety of networking events that are available on a public calendar. The city of Fulton is beginning a small business incubator program where they will offer hands-on assistance to local businesses.

"The kind of support and services we provide these businesses may be the difference between a business making it or not," said Bruce Hackmann, the president of the Fulton Area Development Foundation.

With various groups and programs dedicated to the success of small business's success, it appears that the training and networking opportunities are out there, so where does the low rating come in? Thompson said the wording of the question might have led to some confusion.

The question asked small business owners to answer: Does your state or local government offer helpful training or networking programs for small business owners?

"Here in Missouri people don't associate universities with government," Thompson said. "So the Missouri Business Development Program, people who know about that and understand that, associate it with an educational institute, so there was that disconnect just in the way the question was worded."

But, Thompson also admitted that the development centers' ability to get the word out about their services is not always as strong as it could be.

The funding the program receives comes from the state and federal level that often have strings attached. These strings can reduce the amount of advertising of the available services.

But the resources appear to be there for those who seek them. The center in Jefferson City has made an impact for B.K. Bakeries, who 12 months ago revised their menu to fill the donut gap in the city.

Kelley said he has no intention of stop using the services at the MO SBDTC.

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