If the state continues to cut funding for community colleges, Johnston Community College could shutter its Small Business Center.
Gov. Pat McCory hasn’t released his draft budget, and state lawmakers are likely months away from adopting one. So it’s impossible to know whether the state’s community colleges will see a budget cut this year.
However, Scott Ralls, president of the N.C. Community College System, said more cuts could mean closing the system’s network of small-business centers.
In a letter last fall to the state budget office, Ralls recommended no cuts to his budget. But he said the Community College System must weigh programs like the small-business centers against core functions that provide “quality, college-level instruction and workforce training.”
For 30 years, JCC’s Small Business Center has provided workshops and counseling for start-ups and existing businesses in Johnston. In the last four years alone. the center has held more than 600 counseling sessions with people looking to start or expand a small business.
Those sessions have helped create 35 new businesses in Johnston, said Pat Killette, director of JCC’s Small Business Center.
“As long as its a legitimate business, we’ve probably helped with it somewhere along the way,” Killette said.
The center’s core offering is free workshops on a variety of topics, from the basic “how to start a business” to more-advanced seminars on managing cash flow, labor issues and state and federal taxes.
Killette said she and a part-time staff member also spend a lot of time in one-on-one counseling with entrepreneurs and business owners. The counseling sessions are free and confidential, she said.
“We always give the example that you may be a good doctor or a good plumber, but maybe you don’t have the business training or have never been exposed to the business side of how things work,” Killette said. “That’s where we come in and help with the training.”
David Johnson, president of Johnston Community College, said cuts don’t appear likely, but that’s only a guess at this point.
The governor is expected to release a first draft of his budget in early March. At that point, Johnson said, he’ll have a better idea of what’s in store.
The state allocated about $6.1 million for small-business centers this fiscal year, including about $108,800 for the JCC center.
Johnson estimated that JCC has suffered budget cuts of 4 to 5 percent annually over the past several years. This year, the college lost about $1.3 million in funding, he said.
“It’s a tough position to be put in,” Johnson said.
Despite the recent cuts, the college hopes to persuade lawmakers to come up with more money this year. Johnson said JCC’s priorities are to increase salaries for teachers, seek funding for technology and create programs to stir up interest with high school students.
However, if the college does suffer another cut this year, Johnson agrees with Ralls that it’s important to protect the primary mission: education and training.
“I hesitate to say a lot until we start knowing some things,” he said. “We have to work from what we know, and at this point, we don’t know.”