U.S. Sen. Mazie K. Hirono joined a group of Democratic colleagues to introduce the Women’s Business Centers Improvement Act of 2022, aiming to improve the U.S. Small Business Administration/s Women’s Business Center Program.
“As our economy continues to recover from the pandemic, supply chain issues and labor shortages, it is important that we do everything we can to support our small, local businesses,” Hirono said in a release from her office. “This bill will increase access to crucial resources and opportunities for women business owners in Hawaii and across the country. Last month, I visited the only Women’s Business Center in Hawaii—the Patsy T. Mink Center for Business & Leadership—where I saw, firsthand, the ways these centers are supporting female entrepreneurs and enabling their success. I am proud to cosponsor the Women’s Business Center Improvement Act.”
The proposed legislation would, among other things, increase federal support to Women's Business Center programs by doubling the maximum annual grant award to $300,000; empower the SBA Administrator to provide greater flexibility to smaller, more under-resourced WBCs; establish the responsibilities of the WBCs; require the SBA to establish an accreditation program for WBCs; and clarify the duties of the SBA’s Office of Women’s Business Ownership and codifies the office’s mission in statute among other provisions.
The WBC program is a national network of more than 140 centers that offer counseling, training, networking, workshops, technical assistance and mentoring to entrepreneurs. Women’s Business Centers (WBCs) support entrepreneurs at all stages of the business development process, including assistance with writing a business plan, conducting market research, navigating the federal procurement process and other business management and operations skills. While WBCs serve all entrepreneurs, they are required by law to serve a representative number of socially and economically disadvantaged women. As a result, WBCs often offer more flexible hours and programming when compared to other entrepreneurial development programs offered by the SBA.
The WBC program played a vital role in the SBA’s support of small businesses impacted during the pandemic. The business centers served more than 88,000 clients in 2021, a 36% increase from the 64,000 clients served in 2019, according to the release.
The Patsy T. Mink Center for Business & Leadership is the only SBA-designated Women’s Business Center in Hawaii. The center trained over 1,700 program participants and hosted 55 training events from 2019 to 2020. These efforts enabled the creation of 12 new businesses and supported over 850 jobs, according to the release.