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Small Business | SMALL-BUSINESS REPORT

Keeping federal agencies accessible

January 24, 2007|Cyndia Zwahlen | Special to The Times

To a small-business owner, the federal government can seem as remote and aloof as the Great Sphinx of Egypt.

Working to change that is Nicholas N. Owens, the new head of the Office of the National Ombudsman at the Small Business Administration.

"Small business should know we have the ear of the federal agencies, that there is transparency through our office for small businesses," said Owens, who joined the SBA last year.

Owens oversees 10 regional regulatory-fairness boards, including one in California, which act as troubleshooters for small businesses that file complaints with federal agencies.

His office keeps tabs on how fast -- and how well -- agencies respond, giving each an annual grade. The 2005 report (available online at www.sba.gov/ombudsman/reports/docs/ono2005report.pdf) awarded mostly As and Bs, although the Treasury Department and the Defense Department both received Ds. The Treasury has said its response rate is relatively slow partly because of the complex nature of the issues raised by small businesses with its Internal Revenue Service unit.

The Federal Trade Commission, which had an average response time of 14 days, received As for its responsiveness to small business. Overall federal agency response rates have improved from an average of 87 days in 2003 to 55 days in fiscal year 2005, Owens said.

He expects that number to drop further this year as his office continues to work on behalf of small-business owners who believe they have been subject to unfair or excessive regulation and penalties or retaliatory behavior. The report for the fiscal year ended Sept. 30 will be available online in April.

Owens said he planned to focus on how well agencies help small business comply with their regulations. More public hearings will be held around the country for small businesses to share their views, he said.

Local small-business owners will have a chance to weigh in on how well the federal government responds to their needs during a two-hour public hearing Owens will hold June 14 in Los Angeles. For more information, visit the SBA ombudsman website at www.sba.gov/ombudsman.

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Linking minority-owned firms with big companies

Minority business owners who are interested in expanding their client lists to include some of the country's largest companies -- United Airlines, Honda and Wal-Mart, among them -- should consider attending the Minority Business Opportunity Day on Feb. 22 in Industry.

Representatives from each of these corporations and four dozen other major companies were sponsors or exhibitors at last year's daylong event organized by Southern California Minority Business Development Council Inc.

Registration is $25 for minority-owned suppliers through Feb. 15 and $50 thereafter. The fee includes a continental breakfast, workshops and seminars, a buffet lunch and afternoon reception at the Pacific Palms Conference Resort. For more information, contact Shawn Smith at (213) 689-6940 or ssmith@scmbdc.org.

The council also offers small-business owners the certification of minority ownership required by many of the large corporations and government agencies looking to diversify their supplier base.

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Executive training for business owners

Seats are still available for the free executive development seminar to be offered May 15-16 in Los Angeles by the Small Business Administration and a private training firm.

The two-day Basic CEO/Executive Development class, which is limited to 40 participants, is already one-third full. The class is a primer for new small-business owners.

Topics to be covered include business and strategic planning, financial management, leadership, mentor programs and how to do business with the federal government.

The seminar is limited to companies that are owned by minorities, women, service-disabled veterans or low-income individuals. In addition, the training is open to companies that operate in areas of high unemployment or low income.

For more information, visit www.ussmc.com or contact Glen Constantino in the SBA's Los Angeles office at (818) 552-3235 or glen.constantino@sba.gov.

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Scholarships offered to teenage entrepreneurs

Teenage entrepreneurs can apply to win as much as $11,000 in scholarship grants from the Young Entrepreneur Foundation of the National Federation of Independent Business.

Applications from high school seniors or those entering their first year of college or a vocational institute will be accepted online through Feb. 12 at www.nfib.com/yef. Winners of the fifth annual Young Entrepreneur Awards will be announced in May.

Last year, 406 teens, including 12 from California, won $1,000 scholarships from the small-business advocacy group. Four scholarships of $5,000 are also awarded each year. One student is named Entrepreneur of the Year and receives a $10,000 scholarship.

This year, an additional $1,000 grant for their sophomore year of college will be awarded to five of the winners.

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cyndia.zwahlen@latimes.com

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