JANUARY 8, 2021 — Adding to UTSA’s continuing efforts to deepen connections with San Antonio’s West Side and lend assistance to meet the unique needs of the neighborhood, the UTSA Small Business Development Center/South-West Texas Border Small Business Development Center Network provided much-needed economic impact on the West Side in 2020.
During a trying pandemic year, the SBDC’s advising and training efforts helped several West Side businesses stay afloat and even helped a few expand.
“I mean, this is really when the community—especially the business community—needed us the most,” said Roger Enriquez, executive director of the Westside Community Partnerships Initiative. “We’re talking about tire shops. We’re talking about panaderias. We’re talking about small, family-owned businesses.”
During fiscal year 2020, from October 1, 2019 through September 30, 2020, the SBDC supplied the following assistance to small businesses in zip codes on San Antonio’s West Side:
The SBDC arguably fulfilled more economic needs than ever before in 2020. Between late March and the end of May, the SBDC team spent more than 1,200 hours dedicated specifically to COVID-19-related relief funding requests—ranging from quick responses to 15-minute walkthroughs to two-hour meetings—as the pandemic pounded small businesses statewide. In April alone, the SBDC was fielding six times as many calls as usual, adding more advisors simply to keep up.
Assistance on the West Side was no exception. Whether advisors were providing guidance to a longtime client such as the Mariachi Connection or connecting a new client like Element Kombucha to resources through its expansion and a growing relationship with H-E-B, the SBDC’s economic impact on the West Side was significant. While most business owners took advantage of the SBDC’s free, confidential one-on-one advising, many others increasingly attended virtual workshops and training programs (97% of which are provided at no cost and the remainder at a low cost).
Even with a growing footprint in the neighborhood, SBDC director Richard Sifuentes aims to do more to lift the West Side economy. “Although we do help a lot of people and we have these services available at basically no cost, we’d like to help more small business owners and entrepreneurs on the West Side who haven’t taken advantage,” he said.
To that end, the SBDC has cultivated a close relationship with the Westside Development Corporation. The organization’s mission is to foster economic development, promote the development and redevelopment of real estate within its target area, create viable urban communities, and preserve the character, culture and history of the West Side. “We work very closely with the Westside Development Corporation. I know their staff members and they know me,” Sifuentes said. “They’re very involved in that community and we’re always happy to serve any clients they send to us.”
Both entities are part of the burgeoning Westside Business Alliance. With the support of District 5 Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales, this alliance—which also includes partners like the City of San Antonio, the West San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, LiftFund and SCORE Mentors San Antonio—connects business owners in the West Side to create advocacy networks and empowers them to promote projects that positively impact their businesses and communities. Sifuentes said the alliance has been beneficial for UTSA and the SBDC because they often learn about larger issues on the West Side as they introduce community members to the university’s resources.
As the pandemic fades away in the near future and events return to physical spaces, the SBDC plans to stage economic workshops and training sessions at UTSA’s Westside Community Center at 1310 Guadalupe St. Creating pathways to economic prosperity is one of many goals of the university’s Westside Community Partnerships Initiative, which further aims to bolster educational excellence in the area, engage in community-based research and advocacy, and foster community-campus engagement.
“We want UTSA to harness its human, intellectual, and economic power into one discrete part of town that has faced challenges for many generations,” Enriquez said. “We’re not going to solve these things overnight, but we’re committed to being there for the long haul and being part of that solution.”
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