Port, WWCC, WSU key to program's funding

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WALLA WALLA -- The Walla Walla Area Small Business Center was created as a joint project of the community's two drivers of economic development: Walla Walla Community College and the Port of Walla Walla.

Both have provided funding and in-kind contributions since 1993, said center Director Rich Monacelli.

The program has been administered by the community college, which also provides the resources for the workshops offered by the center. But because the program is designed for the business community rather than the academic community, the office has been housed by the Port.

From 1997 to 2007, the center also received funding from the Small Business Development Center. Additionally, Monacelli said the center had performance contracts from Washington State University that contributed $50,000 per year for more than a decade. Those funding sources took financial pressure off the Port and community college.

With the state's budget woes, WSU will see a loss of $12.5 million this year, while Walla Walla Community College will lose more than $1 million. WSU has discontinued the performance contracts.

Walla Walla Community College President Steve VanAusdle was out of town late last week and could not be reached for comment on the closure of the program.

Port of Walla Walla Executive Director Jim Kuntz said even if the Port doubled its annual contribution of $10,000 to the program, it would still fall almost $50,000 short of the annual budget for the program. That amount pays largely for the center's professional memberships, travel for one-on-one consultations with business owners and Monacelli's salary.

Monacelli said the community college's chances to capture more of the state funding would be based on enrollment.

"What I'm doing is not an academic offering. If they're going to put their money into a program it needs to generate (full-time students)," he explained. "In that way, nobody's arguing that it's not a valuable luxury."

Kuntz said in retrospect it would have been wise to develop more funding partners. "We could have built a stronger local coalition of supporters of the center," he said.

In the meantime, those who otherwise might have sought the free counseling service to start a business may have a longer road ahead when it comes to securing funds and getting started.

"Getting a commercial loan is not a wink and a handshake," Monacelli said.

Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at vickihillhouse@wwub.com or 526-8321.

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