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Idaho rejected for Women’s Business Center grant

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Debbie Field, executive director of Idaho Women in Leadership, at the May Women’s Business Center grant workshop. Photo by Fiona Montagne.

Idaho will continue to be one of the only states in the nation without a Women’s Business Center.

None of the applicants for a Small Business Administration grant received a passing grade on the grant applications, said Christian Pennington, lender relations specialist in Boise for the SBA. Details on exactly in what areas the application fell short were not immediately available.

photo of diane bevan

Diane Bevan

“Sad day indeed,” said Diane Bevan, president and CEO of the Idaho Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, in Nampa, which was involved with the grant application.

The primary applicant was Idaho Women in Leadership (I-WIL), a bipartisan nonprofit organization that advances Idaho women’s leadership in government and business through leadership training programs. The organization’s CEO is Lori Otter, wife of Gov. C. L. “Butch” Otter, and the executive director is Debbie Field, who has been involved with state government organizations. I-WIL representatives did not immediately respond to questions about the application.

This year marked the SBA’s third attempt in recent years to award a grant to help support a Women’s Business Center, after two previous centers shut down due to lack of matching funding from the community. After attempting to fund a third Women’s Business Center in late 2017, the agency announced on May 8 that a $150,000 grant was available for a nonprofit organization to provide business counseling, training, and other resources in Idaho. While the grants are intended to help support women entrepreneurs, the centers provide information to anyone who asks.

The deadline for the grant was July 2, and the SBA held bidding information sessions May 17 and 18 in Coeur d’Alene and Boise, respectively. Field and Bevan attended the May 18 workshop.

People involved in previous incarnations of the Women’s Business Center in Idaho criticized the grant’s daunting match requirements — 50 percent for the first two years, followed by 100 percent – and onerous paperwork. In response, the SBA said it had reduced the amount of paperwork required by 25 percent.

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Karan Tucker

Like other federal grant applications, the Women’s Business Center grant application is complex, said Karan Tucker, executive director of Jannus Inc., a Boise-based nonprofit that ran the second Women’s Business Center. It requires a community needs assessment, in-depth background of the organization applying, qualifications, a description of the plan to operate, a detailed budget, and commitment letters from groups that are going to help the organization meet the match requirement, Tucker said. She was not familiar with the details of this year’s applications, she added.

“It’s a heavy lift to put together an application, and an even heavier one to operate it,” Tucker said. “It’s disappointing for Idaho to not have this resource, but it is a mighty complex program, and difficult to meet the compliance requirements and raise the match. $150,000 is a substantial barrier. We have to figure that one out.”

Idaho tends to show up dead last, or nearly last, in national research on economic opportunities for women. For example, in a recent WalletHub survey of Best and Worst States for Working Moms, Idaho ranked last in the country. In particular, Idaho ranked at 50 for its ratio of female to male executives, 49 in gender-representation gap in different economic sectors, and 43 in gender pay gap.

The SBA has 110 Women’s Business Centers nationwide, which it said helped 150,000 entrepreneurs, including 17,000 new business starts, in 2017. Idaho is one of three states, along with Alaska and South Carolina, without one. South Carolina also failed to receive a grant this cycle due to not receiving a passing grade on an application, Pennington said.

The SBA is determining whether it will open another grant solicitation for Idaho in 2019, according to Cecelia Taylor, an SBA spokesperson in the Washington, D.C. office.

About Sharon Fisher

Sharon Fisher is an Idaho Business Review staff writer, covering financial institutions, technology, and business development. She holds a bachelor of science in computer science from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and a masters in public administration and graduate certificates in geographic informational analysis and in community and regional planning from Boise State University. She likes explaining things and going to meetings. Join me on Twitter at @IBR_SLFisher.