Environment and Government and Small Business

Director leaves small-biz agency: Disagreement over host sponsor helped sway decision

June 27, 2005

The head of the Central Indiana Small Business Development Center resigned this month following a rift over who might host the agency.

Mary Jane Gonzalez, who came on board as executive director of the Central Indiana SBDC in July 2003, left to become director of business development at Mezzetta Construction Inc.

Gonzalez's departure leaves the Central Indiana SBDC, where budding entrepreneurs can seek advice without paying high consulting fees, without a leader for the third time in roughly three years. The center, one of 12 in the state's Small Business Development Center Network, previously had gone leaderless during a two-year stint from 2000 to 2002.

The local agency also has not had a host sponsor since February 2001, when the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs pulled its sponsorship. Hosts provide office space and funding for equipment, which is needed to help match federal funding. Alabama-based Regions Bank has donated space to the center at One Indiana Square for about 18 months.

The University of Indianapolis is in discussions with the Central Indiana SBDC and its parent agencies, the SBDC Network and the U.S. Small Business Administration, about becoming the host sponsor. Both Debbie Bishop Trocha, executive director of the SBDC Network, and Gail Gesell, director of the SBA's Indiana district office, favor a partnership with U of I.

Meanwhile, Gonzalez thought she had located a permanent host in the Indiana Business Development Council, formerly known as the Indiana Regional Minority Supplier Development Council. "When I found this host, there didn't seem to be a lot of interest," she said. "It kind of pushed things over the line for me, because I felt I had met my objective."

Gonzalez viewed the minority-based council as an ideal host, especially since it had 1,000 square feet of space that was vacated at the end of March by the SBA's Business Information Center. The SBA cut the BIC program due to budget constraints, although in Indianapolis, New York-based JPMorgan Chase Bank funds the space. The lease is paid through 2006, said Reggie Henderson, executive director of the IBDC.

Henderson was prepared to present the proposal for IBDC to serve as the host to his board, but first needed to know whether the Central Indiana SBDC was still in talks with the U of I, he said.

A spokesman for the U of I and Trocha said those discussions are continuing.

"We're no different than any other company, so to speak," Trocha said. "If we start talking with someone, we need to see that through. Until that reaches a conclusion, we're not going to go into negotiations with anyone else."

Prior to Gonzalez's arrival, the Central Indiana SBDC had been temporarily housed in the SBDC Network's offices at the One North Capitol Building. It previously had lost its location on Senate Avenue after the IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs dropped its support in early 2001.

Nearly two years later, in November 2002, Edgar R. "Sandy" Levine arrived to lead the center. He lasted less than a year due to the center's financial problems. Bill Cafaro, senior vice president and small-business financial services manager for JPMorgan Chase and an advisory board member for the Central Indiana SBDC, supported Gonzalez during her tenure.

"She did a remarkable job bringing the center back to a certain degree of prominence," Cafaro said. "I don't see this as an indication that there is a problem with the center. From my perspective, it's pretty healthy right now."

The center this year received $34,000 from the city, $66,000 from the state and $202,000 from the federal government, half of which must be matched. Instead of trying to get one organization to hand over the entire $101,000, the center had shifted gears and attempted to solicit several contributors. Gonzalez had $38,000 left to raise when she left, she said.

Trocha is conducting a search for a replacement and said she hopes to have someone in place by the first of August.

Scott Burns, vice president of SBA credit services at Cleveland-based National City Bank of Indiana, who is chairman of the center's advisory board, said he and fellow directors think the center still can be successful.

"The board really supports it and wants it to work, and I think it is," Burns said. "There are a lot of positive things that are being done by the staff."

Gonzalez, meanwhile, said she feels good about what she accomplished during her short stay. While the spat over a sponsor might have contributed to her hasty departure, she also said the opportunity to join the Hispanic-owned Mezzetta Construction was something she could not refuse.

The northwest-side construction manager hired Gonzalez to locate federal contracting opportunities now that the company is federally certified as a minority- and womanowned business. The company, operated by Remo and Darlene Mezzetta, is the 17thlargest minority-owned business in the city, according to IBJ research.

In 2001, Gonzalez founded the Indiana State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, which is now led by her husband, Manuel.
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