Community banks fuel uptick, officials say
HARTFORD — U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) lending in Connecticut increased significantly in the fiscal year ending September 30. SBA-backed loan volume rose 28.3 percent to $281.9 million for the 2011 fiscal year. That sum was spread over 737 individual loans, comparing favorably with the 698 borrowers who received $202.1 million in 2010.
The average loan size also rose year over year, from $28,939 in fiscal 2010 to $38,263 for the year just ended.
SBA officials say the increase in the dollar and volume of loans indicates positive activity within Connecticut’s financial industry as banks begin to write more loans and small businesses are finding it easier to approach lenders. The increase in activity is not unique to Connecticut, as many other New England states are benefiting from the impact of SBA lending and the economic stimulus efforts.
“Connecticut is a state comprised of many community-based banks, which are both large and small banks,” said Connecticut SBA District Director Bernard M. Sweeney. “Over the last year the Connecticut SBA office has strived to build partnerships between financial institutions, small businesses and state [government].
“Some banks have recently announced expanding small-business lending initiatives, which is a good sign for the Connecticut economy and we look forward to more banks announcing a strong commitment to lending to small businesses,” Sweeney added. “This is the right step in building on a trend of working together to make funds available to qualified borrowers.”
Top SBA lenders for fiscal 2011 included Webster Bank, Farmington Bank, RBS Citizens and TD Bank. The Connecticut Community Investment Corp. (CTCIC) again ranked number one in SBA’s 504 real estate loan program. Fairfield County Bank and Union Savings Bank were also among those SBA lenders who for the second consecutive year ranked among the top SBA lenders.
FAIRFIELD — John Tejada has been living his fantasies by wielding a sword for the past 25 years.
“I don’t care who you are. At some point in your life you saw a movie or a play and you wanted to become a pirate,” says Tejada about how (depending on one’s age) the inner Robin Hood, or Zorro, or Luke Skywalker, or Jack Sparrow or some other rakish adventurer emerges.
“For me, it’s sword fighting,” Tejada says. “You have to have a little swashbuckling, a little cowboys-and-Indians.”
Today Tejada shares the passion he discovered at age ten with up-and-coming swashbucklers. Three months ago he opened the Fairfield Fencing Academy. Located at 85 Mill Plain Road, it currently serves about 100 youth and adult students.
“I get to spend my day hitting people in the head with a sword. You want to hit someone in the chest and not get in trouble for it,” jokes Tejada, an all-around sportsman whose other sports include swimming and basketball. He’s also an experienced equestrian. But from the time he grabbed a broadsword for the first time while taking a fencing class as an elective in sixth grade, he’s favored the sport.
In addition to the bodily workout fencing provides, “it’s the mental aspect of it as well that’s so prominent. It’s physical chess,” says Tejada about the personal satisfaction he derives from fencing.
A communications major in college, Tejada, 34, has worked at places such as WABC-TV news in New York, WFSB-TV in Hartford and ESPN. He has continued fencing over the years, earning personal achievements and coaching school and community teams to unprecedented victories.
At New Jersey’s Ramapo High School, for example, Tejada coached a previously losing team to four consecutive district championships. A Brooklyn native who relocated to Connecticut in 2005, Tejada also coached in Fairfield County before starting the academy. Under his guidance, for example, high school fencing teams in Fairfield have earned top state honors.
His teaching approach is a mix of discipline and infectious enthusiasm for the sport.
“If you’re not having fun, don’t to it,” Tejada advises students. “There are so many other things in this world we have to do that we don’t want to do.”
The academy is Tejada’s first business venture. When he decided to start his own company he had little money and, he admits, even less business acumen. He was fortunate to have investors with both, along with a belief in the benefits of the sport he taught. Several he knew personally, which spared Tejada from what could have been an uphill battle of seeking start-up capital from recession-spooked financial institutions.
“I have a total of six investors. Five are parents of students — and three started taking lessons,” says Tejada, adding that he sent a letter to parents asking their opinions about the feasibility of opening an academy. When a planned deal in Wilton fell through, several parents jumped in to help. “My investors said, ‘We’ll do it ourselves,’” recalls Tejada.
“To be honest,” he says, “I know nothing about running a business. So I’ve been leaning on my investors. They’re really good investors who’ve been helping me out. I’m not a great businessman yet, but they’re going to turn me into one.”
At the same time, Tejada is turning dozens of clients who previously sat on the fence about the sport, so to speak, into active participants.
“Numerous people tell me ‘It’s on my bucket list’” before taking the leap and then, once lessons begin, slash the item off their wish list of adventuresome undertakings, says Tejada.
For more information about the Fairfield Fencing Academy, visit fairfieldfencingacademy.com.
ROCKY HILL — The Connecticut Small-Business Innovation Research (SBIR) office has launched a new website, CareersforEngineers.org, designed to help the state’s small technology and manufacturing companies find and hire the most talented people. Designed by Student Employment Software, LLC of Greenwich, the free service allows employers and job-seekers alike to post notices for available jobs or positions sought, and in addition to engineering jobs is open to business developers, project managers, testers, scientists, machinists, grant writers and others. A key feature of the site is an alert system that informs users by e-mail or text message when a match is identified. Connecticut SBIR is a program of Connecticut Innovations Inc.