Chairwoman of state advisory panel sees need for centralized services

Olivia Smith learned about federal government contract work earmarked for women from a postcard she happened to pick up in California.And when she returned to Utah, Smith, former owner of Certified Blueprint, spent the next two days on the telephone. Some 20 calls later, she finally located someone who could tell her about the government program.

Smith, chairwoman of the Governor's Advisory Board of Business Development, said that experience taught her that the state needs a centralized service to assist women business owners.

"It will be the last thing I do before I leave this state to make sure women have a voice," Smith said in an interview this week.

The state offered such a service briefly during 1989 after Gov. Norm Bangerter announced the formation of the Women's Bureau within the office of Community and Economic Development. However, the program was zero-funded during the past session of the Utah Legislature and has operated on a part-time basis with departmental funds since July.

Smith said she believes the program has suffered from an identity crisis - that it is a women's program rather than an economic development program.

"It's perceived as gender based," said Wendy Hummel, bureau secretary. "It's like if there were 20,000 green people in Utah. If 10 percent of them gave other people jobs, there would be 2,000 new jobs in Utah."

About one-third of all businesses in Utah are owned by women, yet they generate only 4 percent of the state's annual business receipts.

But women encounter roadblocks to both establishing and expanding their businesses. Women sometimes face bias obtaining start-up and expansion capital, Smith said.

First-time business owners are often overwhelmed by the number of programs available to assist them and have difficulty determining which may be of particular help to them.

The Women's Bureau filled that need until its budget was cut and its director, Carol Clark, left for a job with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"What this is is a giant filing cabinet. When you need something, you have a place to start and then a place to go," Smith said.

Members of the advisory board on business development and Commission of Women plan to discuss the bureau's plans and needs with the Legislature's Interim Committee on Economic Development next month.

The advisory board has developed a new mission statement and plans to ask the Utah Women's Lobby Group to include funding of the bureau as part of its 1991 agenda.

Smith said the program needs both money and a new director. "For example, we met with the Small Business Development Center to discuss lending programs run outside the financial institutions that would help businesses get started. Those are the kind of things Carol (Clark) could take in, get information and see other things exist."

Said Hummel, "One hundred twenty thousand dollars is really a drop in the bucket. It's really a minimal investment with maximum return."