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Straight Talk event goes on, in spite of shutdown

Imagine organizing an event for more than 300 guests, but finding out hours before it starts you can't participate in it. The same goes for your marquee speaker.

That was the position the U.S. Small Business Administration's Buffalo district office found itself in over the weekend. The office was preparing for Straight Talk, a signature annual event it puts on in conjunction with SCORE Buffalo Niagara, a small-business mentoring group.

The event, geared toward small businesses, was scheduled for Saturday morning at the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center. But just hours earlier, the federal government shutdown took effect and threw a wrench into the SBA office's plans.

The shutdown meant SBA staff and its district director, Frank Sciortino, couldn't participate in Straight Talk. Neither could Linda McMahon, the SBA administrator who gained fame as co-founder of what is now called WWE. She came to town on Friday and was due to make opening remarks.

Despite those last-minute obstacles, the 22nd edition of Straight Talk went on, said John Vitale, chair of SCORE Buffalo Niagara's chapter. SCORE volunteers had been working with the SBA Buffalo office on backup plans in the event of disruption from a government shutdown.

"It's a testament to the SBA staff in the hard work they did beforehand preparing for Straight Talk," Vitale said.

About 350 people attended Straight Talk, and Mayor Byron Brown and County Executive Mark Poloncarz still made their appearances, Vitale said. No sessions as the event were canceled, since substitute presenters stepped in where needed. About 30 banks, vendors and organizations were there to meet with attendees.

The Saturday event kicked off an eight-week series of Straight Talk workshops on Tuesday nights at Medaille College, starting Jan. 30. Vitale said those sessions will go on as planned.

SCORE Buffalo Niagara mentors small business owners who are just getting started or trying to grow. The group meets with clients at the SBA's offices on South Elmwood Avenue, but it is rescheduling them to meet this week at one of its five other mentoring locations, Vitale said. The group has just opened a mentoring location in East Aurora.


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