A group of Utahns is pushing for a set of business resource centers throughout the state to help both start-up and existing businesses thrive.

Speaking Wednesday at the Legislature's Business and Labor Interim Committee, supporters said having "one-stop shops" for business owners could help grow the state's economy by giving start-ups a better chance to succeed. By having information and coordination services at the centers, business owners could avoid having to get information and mentoring from a bunch of different places, they said.

Cece Mitchell, vice president and director of the Zions Business Resource Center and chairwoman of the Business Resource Center Organizational Board, said entrepreneurs now are "chasing themselves all over the state, trying to find help" from various agencies.

"All of the sudden, they have all this criss-crossing and they can't remember where they started and where they wanted to end up, and they end up very frustrated and going it on their own, for the most part," Mitchell said. "So our goal with the business resource centers is to help them through that process."

She likened the current situation to a set of puzzle pieces. "Another way to look at it is that we have all these pieces of the puzzle out there and they're touching but they're not really connecting. And by creating the business resource centers and having them share information and coordinate efforts, we put the pieces of the puzzle together and it just flows from one to the other," she said.

Mitchell stressed that each center would be customized to meet the needs of the local community and coordinate the efforts of agencies such as business development centers, chambers of commerce, academic institutions and others. Business owners could call or visit "and rather than have to go from place to place and ask each of those service providers, 'Can you help me?' they could sit down with a person in the BRC and have a plan that is designed for them to direct them to the group that can help them, instead of having them just butt up against walls everywhere they go."

Gary Harter, managing director of the Governor's Office of Economic Development, noted that 97 percent of the state's businesses are small businesses and 60 percent have four or fewer employees. Utah fares well nationally in starting up businesses, but 65 percent to 70 percent fail in their first five years.

A draft bill establishing the centers is expected to be ready for the committee in November. It likely will have GOED as the host agency, plus an executive board and an advisory board.

Jason Perry, executive director of GOED, said analysts have figured on $2.5 million to start the program. He stressed that GOED is not interested in building new buildings or hiring more people but rather having the centers be "a vehicle for coordination."

"Those separate programs are running very well in their spheres, but you don't always have access to those (as a business owner).... These centers will bring those kinds of efforts together in a coordinated way for the first time," Perry said.

Steve Cloward, director of the Davis Business Alliance at the Davis Applied Technology College, said the business community is willing to help, adding that it is "amazing" how many successful ones "want to give back" through mentoring at a center.

Rep. Stephen Clark, R-Provo, committee co-chairman, BRC Organizational Board member and director of the Small Business Development Center at Utah Valley State College, said Utah County has 50 economic development agencies.

"We're all out there doing the same thing and there's no coordination as to who we're visiting, who we're working with, who's mentoring. It's totally chaos," Clark said. "What this will do is coordinate all those resources so that each one of these groups will have certain clients that they'll be responsible for in mentoring and funding and helping them get funding, helping them get the resources they need to be successful."


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