Joe Molineaux is the director of the Small Business Development Center at Stockton, in Atlantic City. The center staff offers free counseling and support to aspiring and established entrepreneurs in Atlantic, Cape and Cumberland Counties, to grow the reach of small businesses. Wednesday Dec 31, 2014. (photo Dale Gerhard/Press of Atlantic City)

Dale Gerhard

New Jersey’s Small Business Development Centers are pushing again for an increase in their state funding — which would in turn make the centers eligible to have federal funding increased to the program in a state with one of the nation’s highest unemployment rates.

The network, formally called America’s SBDC New Jersey, says it had its state support slashed in former Gov. Jon Corzine’s term from $1 million down to $250,000 — and then survived an attempted cut to zero in Gov. Chris Christie’s administration. The state Legislature restored that $250,000, but the funding has been frozen at the same level since Christie’s first year in office, 2010.

Officials with the group argue that’s too little — especially because restoring the $1 million state matching funds would bring back almost that much in federal support for the small-business centers.

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By its own figures, the centers helped 534 clients start new businesses last year, and “helped its clients create and save 15,089 jobs.”

All this comes in a state that has consistently struggled to restore jobs lost in the 2008 recession. The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics counted New Jersey’s unemployment at 6.5 percent in April — which gave the state the seventh-highest unemployment rate in the country, ahead of just Alaska, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, South Carolina and West Virginia.

The three neighboring states — New York, Pennsylvania and Delaware — all have much lower unemployment rates than New Jersey, at 5.7, 5.3 and 4.5 percent respectively.

Two states with populations similar to New Jersey’s, North Carolina and Georgia, devote $3 million and $2 million respectively in their small-business networks, according to the SBDCNJ. And nationwide, the group says a recent survey found the average state funding for an a SBDC is about $1.1 million.

“Why isn't the state of New Jersey providing the proper investment level for small business assistance through the NJSBDC program?” asked Deborah Smarth, the network’s chief operating officer, who also argued in a statement that “small businesses create the bulk of the jobs” in the American economy.

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Gannett/USAToday breaking news reporter at Asbury Park Press; Associate Editor at The Current; Associate Editor, Diocese of Camden Catholic Star Herald; Associate Editor, The Sentinel in Ocean City; general assignment news reporter with The Press.

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