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Northwest SBA leaders seek to reach rural and minority-owned businesses

A fish farm in Hagerman. File photo by Glenn Landberg.

A fish farm in Hagerman. The SBA is looking for ways to help rural businesses gain access to SBA services.  File photo by Glenn Landberg.

The U.S. Small Business Administration is looking for ways to help rural businesses and minority-owned companies gain access to SBA services.

Regional Administrator Calvin Goings, who was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2009, said small businesses and lenders are in much better shape than they were five years ago. They’ve seen nearly four years of month-over-month job growth nationally. However, he said rural businesses and minority-owned businesses in general have lagged behind the rest of the economy.

Calvin Goings

Calvin Goings

“We’ve turned the corner on the meltdown in the economy,” Goings said. “Minority communities have been harder hit than the general business community and are lagging in recovery as well. Now that we’ve stabilized the patient, what can we do to make sure the whole patient has bounced back?”

The SBA helps small businesses get loans and government contracts and can offer assistance through organizations like area Small Business Development Centers. Goings is the administrator for Region X, which includes Idaho, Washington, Oregon and Alaska.

Jennifer Clark, regional advocate for Region X, said that rural or minority business owners that connect with an SBA resource like the SBDC have a good rate of success when applying for an SBA-supported loan. But the SBA and its partners need to do more to reach out to rural and minority-owned businesses. She also said that one growth area for those businesses, and many small businesses, is international markets.

“We want to do everything we can to make sure that small businesses recognize that their greatest business opportunity may be outside the U.S.,” Clark said.

Goings said that the SBA could, for example, help a Hispanic-owned company start exporting to the owner’s country of origin, or to a country where the owner has an existing business relationship.

The SBA is also expanding its Microloan Program. The program offers loans from $500 to $50,000, smaller than the 7(a) general business or 504 real estate and equipment SBA loans. The SBA provides the funds for the Micronloan Program to lenders for the program, but Idaho doesn’t have any lenders in the program yet.

Boise SBA District Director Rodney Grzadzieleski said that lenders in Pocatello, Boise and Twin Falls are working to be part of the program, and that there could be one or two micro lenders in a year’s time.

“It’s a loser for a bank,” Grzadzieleski said. “It’s not a huge dollar volume and there’s a lot of oversight, because there’s a technical assistance part to it.”

However, offering smaller loans can help banks and lenders develop relationships with new businesses before they need larger loans or other services, he said.

“It’s not easy, but there’s a great opportunity for a bank,” Goings said.

About Brad Iverson-Long

Brad Iverson-Long is a reporter for the Idaho Business Review, covering banks, financial services, technology and new business.