Amid ongoing funding cuts, federal programs aimed at boosting the nation's entrepreneurial sector are having a positive impact, small-business groups say.

At an oversight hearing held this week by the Subcommittee on Urban and Rural Entrepreneurship, small-business support and resource groups told lawmakers they relied on federal funding through the Small Business Administration to support a growing population of U.S. entrepreneurs.

"In times of economic instability, new business opportunities are critical sources of growth for our nation's productivity, employment and innovation," said Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.), the subcommittee's chairman. "To remain competitive, they need the access and up-to-date information, business training and marketing service," he said.

Groups represented at the hearing included the Veterans Business Development Corporation, the Association of Small Business Development Centers, Women's Business Center at Cansius College, SCORE, Western N.C. Regional Economic Development Commission and the Office of Entrepreneurial Development. All emphasized the value of federal assistance and resources.

Melinda Rath Sanderson of the Women's Business Center told lawmakers her not-for-profit organization had grown nearly twofold between 2001 and 2003, but needed continued funding to support a growing list of over 150,000 women business owners.

Meanwhile, funding cuts had forced many business centers to reduce staff and even close some facilities, SBDC officials said.