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SMALL BUSINESS | SMALL-BUSINESS REPORT

Revived advisory panel begins setting an agenda

July 18, 2007|Cyndia Zwahlen | Special to The Times

Small business is getting a bigger voice in state government.

A little-known advisory group in Sacramento, the California Small Business Board, is getting new energy these days. And it is talking about tackling issues that can mean the difference between survival and bankruptcy for the several million small companies that form the backbone of the California economy.

The 11-member board, composed of members appointed by the governor and the Legislature, was relaunched this year and met last month to begin to plot an agenda.

Healthcare, workers' comp, taxes, regulation and frivolous lawsuits are on a list of topics. It's a familiar and sometimes controversial refrain. But the board chairman expects the group to hammer out positions that will get the attention of the governor and the Legislature.

"We will have the authority to pull all of the players together," said Martyn B. Hopper, who was appointed chairman of the board by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Hopper probably knows who the players are. He was head of the California chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business for 26 years before leaving the lobbying group last fall.

Hopper, concerned with the lack of direction and focus of the Small Business Board, oversaw the group's first strategy-setting session.

The group decided on a mission statement and three goals: To promote economic opportunity and growth for small businesses, to develop a closer relationship with the governor and the Legislature and to become the go-to organization for small businesses.

By the next meeting, scheduled for Sept. 26, the board will come up with "measurable objectives" to meet those goals, Hopper said.

The objectives might include creation of a one-stop Web portal dedicated to California small-business issues and resources, Hopper said. It would be more specifically tailored for the state's smallest companies than is the government's current business portal, at www.calbusiness.ca.gov.

The board also will hear appeals for any disciplinary action taken against the 11 financial development corporations that provide small-business financing backed by the state's small-business loan-guarantee program. The corporations and the small-business board operate under the state Business, Transportation and Housing Agency.

The Small Business Board comes on the heels of the governor's appointment of a new small business advocate, a position in the governor's office that has been vacant more often than not in recent years.

Marty Keller, the former executive director of the Automotive Repair Coalition of California, a trade group, took over the $99,000-a-year job in May.

For one longtime observer, the moves are the latest evidence of the growing political clout of small businesses.

Small businesses increasingly understand the importance of advocacy groups and are beginning to participate in them, said Martin R. Selter, vice chairman of CytRx Corp. of Los Angeles, who was reappointed to the Small Business Board.

"One of the problems in the past was you'd come up with an idea to benefit small business, but when you go to rally these people, there was no one there," said Selter, who has served on many private and public boards. "We are beginning to coalesce collectively, and that's a key."

To encourage more small-business participation in the board's work, Selter hopes to have the board hold its meetings, which are public, throughout the state. Most small-business owners don't have the time or money to travel to Sacramento for the meetings, which are held about every other month.

Board members are reimbursed for travel expenses but don't receive a salary.

There is no shortage of small-business advocacy and lobbying groups, but Hopper and Selter emphasized that the diverse, bipartisan board was meant to be an advisor that provides a balanced voice for small businesses before the Legislature and the governor.

"Having an independent and objective outlook, I think, makes a great difference," Selter said.

Small-business owners can contact staff member Gwen Strivers at gstrivers@bth.ca.gov for information on meetings.

Doing business

on a dime

"You're fired!" Er, make that "You're wired!"

Trump University, whose chairman is high-profile entrepreneur Donald Trump, has teamed with the Small Business Administration to offer a free online training course, How to Start a Business on a Shoestring Budget.

The self-paced program is at www.sba.gov under the services menu. It takes aspiring entrepreneurs through eight areas of a business start-up including market research, budget branding and what to do when you outgrow your bootstraps.

The Donald doesn't make an appearance, but you'll meet four fictional entrepreneurs who will ask for your opinion on the decisions they have to make. You'll get feedback on your answers that will help you craft your own low-cost launch.

There also are four video clips of SBA experts talking about how to get your ideas to market with limited resources.

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