PULLMAN, Wash. — A Washington State University Small Business Development Center (SBDC) project to apply American business training and assistance ideas to an emerging Eastern European economy is gaining national attention.
The National Association of Management and Technical Assistance Centers (NAMTAC) gave its highest award to the WSU-SBDC project, “Management Training and Technical Assistance for Romania.” The project was selected as being “outstanding” in the business assistance category of NAMTAC’s Project of the Year Awards competition. Washington SBDC State Director Carol Riesenberg accepted the award at the NAMTAC annual meeting in Lincoln, Nebraska.
“This award is really a recognition of six years of hard work by a great many individuals here in Washington and, in particular, the years of effort and dedication to the project by our partners in Romania,” Riesenberg said.
In 1991, the WSU-SBDC successfully submitted a proposal to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to provide small business counseling and training services to Romanian business owners while training local counselors and business development specialists to provide this service on their own. The Polytechnic University of Bucharest, and several other Romanian universities, joined in a cooperative effort with WSU and USAID to create a business development center that eventually would become self-sufficient.
“As their state-owned enterprises slowly were being turned over to private ownership after the end of communist rule, the Romanian universities saw a need for management training and assistance for the people who would be operating those businesses,” Riesenberg said. “We saw this as an opportunity to develop long-term trade relationships for Washington’s business community while helping a nation take its first steps into the global economy.
“We knew the SBDC model works here, but we never could have predicted that it would work so well in such a different culture,” she said.
Under the direct supervision of Robert Tolar, SBDC Coordinator for International Programs, the WSU-SBDC maintained a staff of three faculty members and two graduate student interns in Romania throughout the program. They assisted local staff in their efforts to position Romanian businesses to compete in a worldwide market. American and Romanian staff shared all aspects of the center, from organizing the office to developing modern training and counseling skills.
With the American staff serving as mentors, the center adapted the U.S. method of providing business assistance to the Romanian environment. While U.S. resources accounted for 90 percent of the project at its start, local involvement has grown to a point where over half of the project support comes from Romanian resources.
Today, four SBDCs operate in the country. They, in turn, train staff members in additional affiliated centers. Since 1993, more than 4,000 small businesses have received one-to-one management assistance, such as writing business plans and gaining additional financing. In addition, the project has changed the way business is taught to Romanian college students and business owners through the adaptation of Western adult learning concepts.
Meanwhile, the Center for Business Excellence in Bucharest now obtains research and training contracts on their own. Riesenberg said she expects additional trading relationships to develop between the U.S. and Romania as a result of the relationships built through this project.
The Washington SBDC, part of Washington State University’s College of Business and Economics, is the lead office for 23 counseling and training centers statewide, as well as two international programs. In addition to the Romania project, the SBDC’s international programs division, located at the WSU Vancouver campus, is involved in a training and counseling project in Russia’s Central Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk. The WSU-SBDC also provides training for small business counselors and trainers from business assistance centers in over two dozen nations.

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