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News that Johnson & Wales University was not bidding to retain its contract to operate the Rhode Island Small Business Development Center was not shocking. After all, it was when the SBDC contract with Bryant University ended that JWU took over the joint venture with the U.S. Small Business Administration in 2006.
Thankfully, at least one local university has acknowledged putting in a bid to run the center, which counseled 700 clients in 2012 and is credited with creating or retaining 994 jobs last year.
The school publicly stepping up to the plate is the University of Rhode Island, which recently announced the creation of the URI Business Engagement Center and which moved its MBA program to Providence a year ago so that its students could be more directly engaged with the business community. (Due to the federal-government shutdown, there may be other local applicants whose bids may not have been processed yet, although at least five schools confirmed they have not bid on the contract, including Johnson & Wales.)
The SBDC may not be the sexy job-creation engine that startup-accelerator Betaspring or the quasi-public Slater Technology Fund are. But its work with the state’s small-business community, especially in its urban core, is key to developing and maintaining vibrant Main Street commercial districts, a very important piece in the puzzle that is Rhode Island’s economy. •