SBA: Small business community’s hidden asset
Small businesses across the U.S. are able to open their doors every day thanks to loans backed by the Small Business Administration.
But many of those entrepreneurs don’t know the SBA offers a variety of services beyond loan guarantees, including business counseling, workshops, assistance with federal contract procurements, export help and more.
Calvin Goings, Regional Administrator on the West Coast for the SBA, explained those services to an attentive Edmonds Chamber of Commerce audience and in an interview with the Beacon last week.
Goings said small businesses have played a key role in the country’s recovery since February 2009 when the economy was shedding 700,000 jobs a month.
With help from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and the Small Business Jobs Act in 2010, the economy slowly turned around, then picked up steam. Most new jobs are created by small businesses.
“We’re seeing record years,” Goings said.
There have been 47 months of positive job growth, with the private sector creating 8.5 million new jobs.
The manufacturing sector, long in decline in America, is now growing for the first time since the 1990s, Goings said.
The SBA has been integral in the turnaround with its loan guarantees. Last year, it backed $29 billion in small business loans, including $1 billion in the Pacific Northwest, he said.
But it’s the other services that can help small businesses grow more quickly and succeed.
Business counseling, for example, can range from 30-minute online classes to years-long relationships.
“If you don’t have an SBA counselor, you should,” Goings said. “When entrepreneurs have a long-time relationship with us, they grow faster.”
About 1 million entrepreneurs nationwide are taking advantage of that service, including some 50,000 in the Pacific Northwest.
Of particular interest to the Edmonds arts community or businesses in Edmonds’ International District may be the SBA’s work with “clustering” programs.
Noting that longtime public servant Bob Drewel was instrumental in pioneering cluster programs, Goings said the SBA’s goal is to foster a support network and help grow a particular industry in targeted areas.
In the case of downtown Edmonds, for instance, where city officials and community groups have worked to make Edmonds a destination for arts enthusiasts, Goings said the SBA can assist in economic development grant applications, put together workshops and roundtables with breakout sessions, set up a 30-minute class on web-based marketing, and other programs.
“Perhaps we could tailor-make a counseling session around the arts,” he suggested, “like a two-hour boot camp.
“We’re here to help. Tell us what you need, and we’ll try to make it happen.”
The SBA is keen to help small businesses win government contracts and expand into exports, too, Goings said.
“The SBA can help open doors. It’s in everyone’s best interests to help small businesses reach those agencies,” he said.
He said President Obama set a goal of doubling U.S. exports, and much of those would have to come from small businesses.
Why? Eighty-five percent of all U.S. businesses are classified as small businesses, ie; fewer than 500 employers, but mostly fewer than 10, Goings said.
And why think globally? Only 4 percent of the world’s population lives inside the U.S.
As far as federal agencies go, the SBA itself is comparatively “small.”
Goings said there are 2,700 SBA employees nationwide.
“It makes us nimble and able to respond,” he said.
Goings said small business owners should seek assistance sooner rather than later; too many wait until they’re in trouble.
“A business plan is often not even written,” he said. “When you need a line of credit, that’s not the time to write your business plan.”
When businesses do seek out SBA help and secure SBA-backed loans, the agency shows a respectable 93 percent success rate.
“Small business owners are among the most dedicated and headstrong people you will ever meet,” Goings said.
With the SBA’s help, they’re also among the most successful.