By A. John Shoraka
For The Inter-Mountain
The SBA is committed to providing access and opportunity to Americans who are - or who want to become - small business owners. For a variety of reasons, some communities are underserved when it comes to getting the tools they need to grow a business and create jobs. This includes minorities, women, veterans, those in rural and urban areas, and others.
With 68 District Offices located across America, the SBA and its many resource partners are committed to providing services to small businesses that need help. We have a vast network with proven experience, especially in areas with limited access to financial and technical assistance.
Importantly, many of our staff around the country are familiar with their unique small-business communities and how to meet their needs. In fact, many of our district offices and resource partners have bilingual or multilingual staff. Check out your own local resources at www.sba.gov/direct simply by typing in your ZIP code.
Our resource partners include about 800 Small Business Development Centers, like the West Virginia SBDC in Charleston (wvsbdc.wvcommerce.org), that provide training and business counseling for little or no cost. This includes the basics of starting a business and understanding more about topics like finances, marketing, production and management.
We also have 110 Women's Business Centers including the West Virginia Women's Business Center in Beckley (www.westvirginiawbc.org) and 350 chapters of SCORE like the chapter in Charleston (www.wvscore.org), our mentoring program that matches experienced entrepreneurs with up-and-comers.
Providing adequate services to underserved small businesses requires a crosscutting strategy that touches upon many policy and program areas.
In addition to these counseling efforts, access to capital is top on SBA's agenda. Small firms require financing to grow, to hire new employees, and invest in the future.
Already, SBA loans are much more likely than traditional small business loans to go to women and minorities. But unfortunately, there are still gaps in the marketplace.
For example, studies show that low-dollar small business loans are particularly important for economic development in underserved communities. But, while overall small business lending has started to come back after the recession, we still see a gap in this area.
That's why we are piloting the Community Advantage program. For the first time, we opened up SBA's most popular loan program to community-based, mission-focused lenders who have a high-touch approach. This includes Community Development Financial Institutions, SBA's Certified Development Companies, microlenders, and others who keep at least 60 percent of their portfolios in underserved markets.
Community Advantage will let these organizations make "7(a)" loans of $250,000 or less, and they can use streamlined paperwork to get the deal done.
Beyond these capital and counseling focused programs, we also help small businesses get linked up with the world's largest customer - the U.S. Government. Working closely with other federal agencies, we help set aside nearly one-fourth of all federal contracts for small businesses, totaling nearly $100 billion annually.
This includes specific efforts targeted at service-disabled veteran-owned business, firms in historically underutilized business areas (HUBZone), minority and disadvantaged firms (8(a)), and - new for 2011 - women-owned businesses.
Overall, to further drive targeted strategies for underserved communities throughout the SBA, we recently convened the first meeting of our Council on Underserved Communities. They are providing input, advice and recommendations on how we can do even more to reach out.
Beyond SBA's day-to-day efforts, helping small businesses grow and hire is at the core of the President's new Jobs Act initiatives. If enacted, these provisions would:
- Cut in half the payroll taxes for small businesses for the first $5 million in wages, helping all small businesses, including those in underserved areas;
- Temporarily eliminate employer payroll taxes for small businesses that create jobs or give raises for existing workers above the prior year;
- Extend an immediate 100 percent expensing write-off into 2012 to encourage even more businesses to invest in more machinery and equipment;
- Provide large tax credits (up to $4,000) for businesses that hire workers who've been unemployed for six months, with even bigger credits for hiring veterans;
- Make powerful investments in schools, roads, rail, and airports while helping small business contractors compete for these infrastructure contracts and get surety bonds up to $5 million; and,
- Make it easier for States to allow unemployed workers to create their own jobs by starting their own businesses.
We will continue to find new ways - both at SBA and throughout the Administration - to put more tools in the hands of our job creators, including those in underserved communities.