Women entrepreneurs in Thurston County are about to get a new resource.

The Thurston County Economic Development Council announced this morning that it has been selected as an official SBA Women’s Business Center by the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Per the EDC's newsletter, the WBC, in concert with the EDC's Business Resource Center, will now provide entrepreneurial and small business counseling to women business owners in Thurston County, a representative number who are socially and economically disadvantaged.

“The Thurston EDC is excited about the opportunity to host a Women’s Business Center,” said Michael Cade, Thurston EDC’s executive director. “Through this program, we can continue our mission to help new and existing businesses expand and grow, and provide services to an important and underserved segment of entrepreneurs.”

“It is a big deal for us,” he added. “One of the things that we know very well is that the entrepreneurial market is really very significant in Thurston County, meaning that most of the businesses in the region are small. We've always sought to provide resources and programs that meet that size and special need. By adding this program, it brings another tool for us to open up technical expertise and grow our market opportunities for resilient, for business expansion and business growth.”

The Women's Business Center program will be both an online and in-person social network of entrepreneurial women. The program’s support services will include training, counseling, networking and encouragement to women who are starting or developing new businesses.

“One of the things that was mentioned at the Women of Influence event the other night that really struck home to me was the notion that women-owned business is one of the fastest growing markets in the country,” Cade said. “And Washington state's always been home to entrepreneurs. We've always prided ourselves on a climate of innovation, so to speak. That's certainly something that, in our area, we want to pay attention to, respect and support.”

The EDC is hoping that the program will reach beyond the county's borders and become a vehicle toward a vibrant network of business connections for the entire region.

“I think what this program will allow us to do is reach into our surrounding counties and provide the technical assistance via online training and counseling to reach those that just don't have the available resources in their own areas,” said Daryl Murrow, Business Resource Center manager at the Thurston County EDC.

Since funds for the project are coming in part from the federal Small Business Administration — the EDC has a 50 percent match obligation for two years, Murrow explained, followed by a 100 percent match for the next three — the launch of the online component of the program has been delayed somewhat because of the government shutdown.

“We're definitely in the planning phase for the website development,” Murrow said. “We've already had the initial conversations to get that launched. We were hoping to have our first design up by the end of this month. It's a very high priority for us to get this going.”

Once it's up and running, the site will be structured like popular social media conduits, with added capabilities for education and information sharing specific to women entrepreneurs.

“It's going to resemble something similar to Facebook and LinkedIn,” explained Murrow. “It's a social network where women entrepreneurs will be able to set up and create their own user profile. There can also be specific groups, so if people wanted specific industries, for example, people could join within those groups. Just from the very nature that this is set up, people will be able to engage and discuss with each other. … There's a lot of room for creativity to add into here. This gets people not only to share their calendars of events, but weekly or bi-weekly webinars can be held or broadcasted. Various workshops will be on there as well.”