President Donald Trump once declared that he would be the “greatest jobs president that God ever created.”
After a recent decision to cut a business owner training program in Thurston County — and 14 other locations around the country — some might question Trump’s claim.
“The program was under review by the Trump Administration and the decision was made to let the program expire in its entirety at the end of September,” said Melanie Norton, a spokeswoman for the Northwest region of the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Locally, the program was known as ScaleUp Thurston, a multi-week course that helped businesses beyond the start-up stage grow.
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The two-year-old program was based in Lacey at the Center for Business & Innovation, a partnership of the Thurston Economic Development Council, its business resource center and South Puget Sound Community College. Celia Nightingale is the director of the center.
ScaleUp received about $200,000 a year from the SBA, she said.
The decision to discontinue the program clearly was not data driven because it produced results, with businesses increasing their revenue and adding employees, Nightingale said.
“I find it hard to believe,” said Kevin Leneker about the decision. Leneker is chief executive of Olympia-based Single Handed Consulting, a vocational rehabilitation business that helps injured workers return to work. After participating in ScaleUp in 2016, his revenue grew 57 percent and he increased his staff to 25 from 10.
The course taught him to step back and think bigger picture about the future of his business.
“Work on your business, not just in it,” he said.
Jason Phillips, owner of Zoe Juice Bar in Olympia, also took part in ScaleUp.
Phillips said the course allowed him to fine-tune his business systems and procedures. It also introduced him to other business owners and the importance of networking. His juice bar opened in December 2013, followed by a production space for cold-pressed juice in Tumwater. His business opened with four employees. He now has 12-14, he said.
“It’s really disappointing,” he said. “It was a great resource for small businesses, and small business represents jobs and families.”
“You feel like you had a friend in your corner,” he added about ScaleUp.
ScaleUp may have been viewed as a duplication of services already offered by the SBA’s Small Business Development Center, Nightingale said.
Leneker praised the services of the Small Business Development Center, but he thinks there was little overlap.
“Not even close,” he said.
Nightingale said the current ScaleUp program will run through Sept. 29. After that, the plan is to seek grants and corporate sponsorships to keep it going, she said.
Perhaps the city of Lacey will step up with some funding.
Lacey City Council recently learned about ScaleUp’s end after Councilwoman Rachel Young, a small business owner who serves on the Thurston EDC board, reported the news to a stunned council on July 13. That led business owner and Mayor Andy Ryder to wonder aloud about possibly funding the program.
It wouldn’t be the first time the city has stepped up when the federal government would not. The city led the creation and funding of the Veterans Services Center Hub.