BELLINGHAM - A longtime local business development organization is ceasing operations at the end of the year.
The Center for Economic Vitality, operated through Western Washington University, will cease operations on Dec. 31. The CEV is no longer financially feasible to operate after sustaining significant local and state funding cutbacks, said Brian Burton, dean to Western's College of Business and Economics.
Western's Small Business Development Center will add a counselor from the CEV to enhance its counseling services. The six CEV employees affected by this closure will be assisted by Western in exploring their options.
While the CEV closure is unfortunate, Burton said it shouldn't be taken as a sign that Western is stepping away from community economic development. Along with growing the SBDC, Burton also noted the work that's being done by Hart Hodges at the Center for Economic and Business Research.
With some of the services the CEV once provided - such as business counseling - moving over to the SBDC, Burton said the transition has worked out well.
"We've been hearing great things about what Jennifer (Shelton, SBDC's director) and her staff are doing," Burton said. "Right now, I think there's no better SBDC in the state."
The CEV went through significant changes in recent years in its mission to help support local businesses. In the past year it has focused on assisting companies in export-related work. It will continue to give advice and assistance for companies needing help with exporting through the end of the year.
Even with the recent changes, the CEV had a difficult time separating itself from other economic development agencies. Western administrators met with local business, government and economic development leaders for the past three months. The feedback they received was that the CEV, while doing effective work, tended to have duplicative services with other agencies.
"There's no question that it's been an outstanding organization, offering important services to the community," Burton said. "However, it comes down to funding."
For years the organization was led by Tom Dorr, who changed it from the SBDC to the CEV in 2009 to focus on economic projects that couldn't be done under the auspices of SBDC. Dorr resigned from the CEV in April 2012 and became the subject of an internal audit, which indicated that he violated ethical policies. At the time of the audit, Dorr admitted he made some mistakes that showed up in the report but also said some of the accusations were without foundation.
WWU restarted the SBDC in 2010 with Shelton at the helm.
Reach Dave Gallagher at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-715-2269. Visit his business blog online at blogs.bellinghamherald.com/business or get updates on Twitter at twitter.com/BhamHeraldBiz.
Reach DAVE GALLAGHER at email@example.com or call 715-2269.