SBDC position would be regional

PARKERSBURG – The business coach employed at the proposed West Virginia Small Business Development Center Office in the Municipal Building would work for both the city and state, but would have responsibilities covering half a dozen counties.

The agreement was discussed during Tuesday’s Parkersburg City Council Finance Committee meeting before being sent on a unanimous vote to the full council for consideration.

A Small Business Development Center office is available at West Virginia University at Parkersburg. That would remain in place, with the business coach to be hired there focusing more on education and start-up businesses.

“The one housed at the city is going to be more about small business development, retention, expansion,” Mayor Bob Newell told the committee.

According to the proposed agreement, the coach would “provide consulting, coaching and training services to existing businesses and entrepreneurs in an area including, but not limited to, Calhoun, Jackson, Pleasants, Ritchie, Wirt and Wood counties.” The coach would also do some work for the city; Newell gave an inventory of vacant buildings as one possible example.

If the agreement is approved by council, the business coach would have an office set up on the fifth floor of the city building. He or she would be considered an independent contractor for the city, and the city and state would share oversight of his or her performance.

The city would pay the coach $55,000 a year, $40,000 of which would be reimbursed by the state. In addition, the city would reimburse the coach up to $5,000 for travel-related expenses.

Councilman John Kelly asked where the city would get the money for its share. Newell said he proposes taking it from the capital reserve fund since the 2014-15 budget is already set. The budget could also be amended later.

“In the next budget year, we will budget differently than that,” he said.

Some council members were concerned that the city would be footing the bill for travel to other counties. But Newell said the position is a regional one, and what happens in surrounding areas still impacts and benefits Parkersburg. As an example, he pointed to the January purchase of the former Union Trust and Deposit Co. building by Siltstone Holdings, a company with ties to the energy sector.

“There’s no oil and gas at Seventh and Market that we’re aware of,” Newell said. “We are the hub of this region.”

Having the office downtown also is convenient to other services businesspeople may need, the mayor said, citing the proximity of major banks, the Chamber of Commerce of the Mid-Ohio Valley, the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Council, the Area Roundtable and more.

“It just makes more sense to be downtown in the hub of where things are happening,” he said.