Wolfgang Kurpiers: Working to strengthen the foundation of Treasure Coast economy

Wall Street gambles on big business. Silicon Valley is a conduit for high-tech dreamers.

But who's looking out for small businesses? Banks?

The foundation for financial support for small businesses continues to wane as the economy recovers be it on the Treasure Coast, throughout Florida or across the country.

Yet, the true drivers of the economy, especially our local economy, come from the small businesses we frequent every day and the people that run them. They're the dry cleaner, restaurant, charter boat company, farm, law firm, and graphic design shop. Whether they're in shopping center storefronts, small home offices, or elegant glass buildings, the small business economy is the foundation of the Treasure Coast economy. The success of our main streets fuels our local communities.

Since lending to small business isn't picking up, support now comes primarily in the form of resources. Companies like Chase and Goldman Sachs have launched small business programs in major U.S. cities. In Florida, universities, both public and private, have small business training programs open to students and business owners — University of Florida; Florida State University; University of Miami; Florida International University; Nova Southeastern University; and Florida Atlantic University, to name a few.

Business incubators, micro lenders and start-up hubs are all the rage in our neighboring communities to the south. But somehow, this trend has yet to reach the Treasure Coast. The job of helping our local small businesses is in the hands of a few government agencies and a nonprofit — Treasure Coast SCORE.

The Florida's Research Coast represents business, government and education interests throughout the region, but its vision is broad. The Martin County Small Business Development Board has mounted a nice online business resource hub dedicated to entrepreneurs. The U.S. Small Business Administration operates the Treasure Coast Small Business Development Center at Indian River State College, employing a handful of business experts. Membership-based business organizations are great supporters of business as long as they're members.

The longest running small business assistance program in our community is Treasure Coast SCORE. Managed by a highly dedicated group of more than 22 volunteers, mostly retired business owners and executives, the nonprofit offers workshops and free one-on-one mentoring to existing business owners and startups. In the last year, the group helped about 1,100 business owners and held more than 2,700 workshops and free one-on-one mentoring sessions.

Chris Clifton of Stuart turned to Treasure Coast SCORE after being turned down for a loan from 14 banks. SCORE mentors helped Clifton with his financial forecasts and business plan. With a new proposal in hand, Clifton landed a $250,000 loan — for a startup no less. His business — C2 Equipment Rentals — is open and thriving.

Treasure Coast SCORE is part of SCORE, a nonprofit with 325 chapters and 10,500 volunteers across the country. This year marks the organization's 50th anniversary of helping small businesses start, grow and prosper. It has helped more than 10 million business owners nationwide.

With so much of our local economy linked to small businesses, more needs to be done to ensure their success and survival. Local government agencies, banks and corporations should consider investing in the organizations and people supporting Treasure Coast small businesses, because without their invaluable help, our main streets would surely disappear.

Wolfgang Kurpiers is the district director for SCORE in Southeast Florida. Kurpiers, a volunteer, oversees six SCORE chapters from Melbourne to Miami. Reach him at wolfgang.kurpiers@scorevolunteer.org.

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