Last week, I chaired a local Small Business Caucus field hearing in Vincennes. The National Federation of Independent Business worked to organize these hearings across the state in conjunction with the General Assembly.
This gave small business owners a round-table discussion with state representatives and senators in order to discuss the issues that are affecting them the most. It also gave us the opportunity to answer questions about important topics such as the state’s new biennial budget, economic development, regulations, taxation, unemployment issues and other pertinent matters.
Most of the concerns raised at the meeting centered on unemployment issues and the rising cost of unemployment insurance. Much like we have witnessed a lack of qualified workers to fill available jobs in Indiana, the small businesses explained that they are also experiencing difficulty simply finding people to who want to work. With extended unemployment benefits available, many Hoosiers are staying on unemployment.
This information is probably nothing new to any small business owner who is reading this. I do however want to share a few things you may not already know. There really are a number of resources available to small businesses that may be doing great things but are simply lacking capital.
For instance, the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC) has a Skills Enhancement Fund that provides assistance to businesses to support training and upgrading skills of employees required to support new capital investment. The grant may be provided to reimburse a portion, typically 50 percent, of eligible training costs.
The IEDC also offers Technology Enhancement Certification for Hoosiers (TECH). To help Hoosier companies meet the ever-growing demands of the new information economy, this program helps workers gain new technology skills. The TECH Fund is a reimbursement grant program which provides financial assistance to existing companies that are committed to training their workers in the latest information technology skills.
In addition, the Small Business Administration (SBA) offers loan programs for businesses that need access to capital as well. Bankers are even eager to help out businesses right now as long as they have thoroughly researched their business venture and have developed a strong business plan.
To put into perspective just how important small businesses are in Indiana, according to the Indiana Business Research Center, in 2007, 84.6 percent of all Indiana establishments were small businesses. In this case, a small business was defined as having less than 20 employees. The SBA generally defines small businesses as having up to 500 employees so by these standards, the number of small businesses in Indiana would be even greater.
As you can see, this is a significant part of the Hoosier economy. Some may even say they are the backbone of our state. I hope that the small business owners who were in attendance last week walked away from the meeting feeling that it was as productive as I did. I also hope that small business owners across the state recognize how much we truly value them and are looking for ways to support them.
In the state’s dedication to economic development, I look forward to a continued line of communication with small businesses. Please do not ever hesitate to contact me with questions, concerns or suggestions.