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Government Debuts Free Small-Firm Consultant

WASHINGTON (TheStreet) -- The Commerce Department is working to find new ways to help small businesses and entrepreneurs find new markets for their products by revamping its counseling programs, financing tools and other assistance.

U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Gary Locke says the agency plans to create "one-stop shop" business advocacy centers across the nation to help small firms get the best government help that they can. The centers will operate as central contact points for every Commerce program available to business owners.

Small businesses are so overwhelmed with issues like trying to meet payroll that they can't be expected to have a consultant on board to navigate all the government's services and programs. He made the comments after a Thursday speech at the Minority Enterprise Development Conference in Washington.

The first center opens in Detroit shortly and, if it's successful, there are plans to roll out other centers across the U.S. in the department's 1,200 branch offices.

At a speech before the Detroit Economic Club last month, Locke said: "In the few short months I've been at Commerce, I've already noticed a serious shortcoming with our resources. I've seen how hard it can be for businesses to tap into them...It's not surprising that entrepreneurs and business owner can find it a bit confusing."

There are 12 agencies and bureaus housed under the Commerce umbrella, many of which offer different small-business programs. For example, the Minority Business Development Agency, International Trade Administration and the Patent and Trademark Office are all part of Commerce offering small-business resources.

These new business advocacy centers will be staffed with counselors cross-trained on a variety of government programs designed to help small businesses, such as those offered by Commerce, the Small Business Administration and the Export-Import Bank, Locke said.

"People shouldn't have to travel 50 or 60 miles to get government help, especially in rural areas," he says. "We're completely revamping our offerings."

The charter Detroit center will be overseen by Roger Kilmer, the director of Commerce's Manufacturing Extension Partnership program, a federal and state funded program aiding and advising small manufacturers.

-- Reported by Sharon McLoone for MainStreet in New York.

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