As the state's small-business advocate, Barbara Vohryzek is trying to make state government more user-friendly for the little guy.
Appointed in September, the Davis resident is a former small-business owner herself running a company that handled SBA loan services who also has years of state government experience. She works within the California Governor's Office of Business and Economic Development, known as GO-Biz.
Among her current endeavors is hosting a series of six "brown bag" informational lunches statewide for small-business owners. (For details on the Sacramento event on April 9, see box.)
Recently, she discussed some of her small-business goals. Here's an excerpt:
What's GO-Biz trying to accomplish for California's 3.5 million small businesses?
The office was created in 2011. There's no other role like it within state government. There are a number of groups that look at small business from the outside the NFIB, the California Chamber of Commerce, etc. but (lawmakers) wanted somebody on the inside who would be looking at laws and regulations that impact small businesses It's a broad role that includes permitting assistance, lending, state procurement contracts. We also host an annual disaster-preparedness workshop.
California has a reputation for being an overburdened, paperwork-heavy place to do business. What is your office doing to lighten the load?
One of our efforts is leveraging websites and technology to make it easier for small businesses to get answers to their questions. We want small businesses entering any state website whether it's Cal-OSHA, EDD or any other site to be able to easily get answers on regulations, permitting and legislation.
Let's say you want to open an auto-repair facility in Torrance. What do I need to do that? We already have CalGOLD (www.calgold.ca.gov), which walks you through the permitting process to find out exactly what's required to open that business. (CalGOLD) dials down all the way to the city level, so every business can see what they need. It's currently going through an update that's supposed to go live in early April.
We know that entrepreneurs do not go into business to violate laws. Our goal is to clarify, simplify and streamline so it makes it easy to comply. Small businesses may be grumpy about a particular rule. But if they understand it, they follow it.
Many small businesses have a tough time securing bank financing. Is the lending environment getting any easier?
The whole environment has shifted to a tighter scrutiny on cash and credit. It's become more onerous from a paper standpoint. So it's more work on both sides, for the lender and the small business. It can be very frustrating but you have to be prepared for it. Be sure your financial house is in order before you approach a bank.
We have a number of programs to help. Starting in July, we're moving into our offices the state's "small-business loan guarantee program," which guarantees bank loans. Small businesses can apply for those loans through 11 financial-development corporations statewide.
What new state laws have helped small businesses since you've come on board?
The big one last year was SB 1099. It was a bipartisan effort to make it easier for businesses to know when new regulations were coming up. Instead of changes being (issued) at any time, they now get issued on prescribed, quarterly dates.
How do you define "small businesses" and how big a part are they of California's business landscape?
We use the (federal) SBA definition: Typically it's businesses that employ 500 or less. Many small businesses don't have any employees: consultants, graphic designers, kiosk operators, Web-based businesses, an auto body shop that's a sole owner. California is unique in how many non-employee businesses we have. It's a huge number of entrepreneurs who are functioning on their own. About 99 percent of California's businesses are small businesses.
Health care costs are one of the big uncertainties facing small biz owners under the Affordable Care Act. Any new details on what they should expect next year?
That's one of the reasons we're hosting these "brown bag it" lunches. We're bringing Michael Lujan, director of the state's Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP), to them. He wants to have direct contact with small-business owners to explain what the "Covered California" health care exchange will do and how it operates. He wants to hear what their fears are, what they would change
We're the first state to determine an exchange. We're the frontier here. Many decisions are still in the process of being made, so this is the time for businesses to have input. If there's a concern, an unintended consequence, let's get those small-business entrepreneurs to talk about it.
Right now, many small businesses have only one option for all their employees' health care. With the exchange, they'll have multiple options. If you have 25 employees, you could have three people with Blue Shield, six with Kaiser, two with HealthNet, and so forth. You could have five different health care carriers, but you'll still only get one bill a month.
You've been on the job just seven months. What's your vision going forward?
I want to help California businesses to start, grow and prosper. I do understand their challenges. I also know that small-business owners are extremely optimistic. They have challenges but they do overcome them.
SMALL BIZ 'BROWN-BAG IT'
What: An informational "working lunch" for small-business owners, covering health care changes under the Affordable Care Act, employee training programs and other state resources. It's hosted by the California Governor's Office of Business and Economic Development, known as GO-Biz.
When: Tuesday, April 9, 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m
Where: West Sacramento City Hall Galleria, 1110 West Capitol Ave., West Sacramento.
Cost: $20, including lunch.
Sponsors: Greater Sacramento Small Business Development Center, West Sacramento Chamber of Commerce, Sacramento Area Regional Technology Alliance (SARTA), Sacramento Area Commerce and Trade Organization (SACTO).
Details and registration: www.bit.ly/brownbagit or call SACTO at (916) 441-2144.
Call The Bee's Claudia Buck, (916) 321-1968. Read her Personal Finance blog, www.sacbee.com/personalfinanceblog.