Governor Lincoln Chafee, along with representatives from the RI Economic Development Corporation, the Small Business Administration, the Department of Labor and Training and other government and quasi-governmental agencies made a stop in Bristol on Tuesday morning. Their objective was to meet with small business owners to address their concerns with regard to how the state can help them succeed in business.
Charles Fogarty, director of the RI Department of Labor and Training, said that the top three objectives set by the governor for the DLT were set with small businesses in mind. 1) to help cut through bureaucratic red tape; 2) improve and streamline workforce training; 3) serve as a resource to the business community.
But even after visiting 2,400 businesses in the state, Mr. Fogarty said that many businesses still aren’t taking advantage of the resources available.
“People still aren’t aware of these services,” he said.
Despite the intended audience, only 50 people were counted inside the Rogers Free Library Herreshoff Room for the presentations, many of them elected and appointed officials. Only a handful were Bristol small business owners.
Vowing to make it easier to do business in RI, Leslie Taito, director of regulatory reform in the office of management and budget, said that all of the state’s regulations will be reviewed.
“We are taking an all hands on deck approach,” she said, to make “serious, substantive changes.”
Ms. Taito took a critical look at what business owners face when attempting to get established in RI. The process, she said, is not simple, often requiring cash-strapped entrepreneurs to spend additional money for consultants to help them.
“We want to make it clear how to navigate the system without outside assistance,” Ms. Taito said.
Although Gov. Chafee insisted throughout the presentation that business climate is good in RI, he agreed that the system needs improvement.
“There are 1,642 state regulations on the books right now,” he said.
It is intended that each of those regulations are to be reviewed within 480 days. Every three months, staff will review 25 percent of the regulations – 411 of them – until complete.
“If (a regulation) impacts a business financially, we’re doing an economic impact study,” Gov. Chafee said.
Since some of the regulations have been on the books for a long time, part of the examination will be to determine what its original intent was.
“We don’t want anyone stuck in the system,” Gov. Chafee said.
While resources such as the Small Business Administration, the Center for Women in Enterprise, and other organizations whose mission is to help businesses grow are available, Mark Hayward, RI district director of the U.S. Small Business Administration said that preparation should be part of the business plan.
“Businesses don’t plan to fail. They fail to plan,” Mr. Hayward said.
The SBA, he said, has financed $1.8 billion to help businesses.
“That’s a substantial amount. We want to do more,” he said. “There are opportunities for financing.”
Despite Mr. Hayward’s rosy outlook, Kathleen Seguin, owner of Bristol House Bed and Breakfast, said that many of those “opportunities” do not apply to businesses such as hers.
“If you look at Bristol as a whole, 90 percent are micro-businesses,” Ms. Seguin said. “A lot of those programs don’t help us.”
Mr. Hayward agreed that the financial opportunities he presented were more appropriate to businesses that were not cash-strapped.
“What’s impacting micro-businesses are their credit scores. They borrow from Peter to pay Paul and are classified as a risk,” he said.
Ms. Seguin pointed out that such an underwriting system leaves little hope that micro-businesses, which are typically owned and operated by an individual, can ever qualify for loans under the SBA guidelines.
“We’re considered a start-up for two years. When we’re running our business, we can’t get another full time job. We have no additional income. We need your help,” she said.
Town Administrator Diane Mederos supported the Governor’s effort to reach out to small business owners.
“I think our town has shown a commitment to business,” Ms. Mederos said. “We’re all committed to continued improvements.”