The U.S. Small Business Administration (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 sba.gov/direct simply by typing in your ZIP code.
Our resource partners include about 800 Small Business Development Centers, including the Connecticut Small Business Development Centers, which 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. Visit ctsbdc.org for a location near you.
We also have 110 Women’s Business Centers, including the Connecticut Women’s Business Center in Hartford, Naugatuck Valley and Stamford (wbcct.org), as well as 350 chapters of the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE), our mentoring program that matches experienced entrepreneurs with up-and-comers. There are SCORE chapters throughout Connecticut. Visit score.org to locate the chapter nearest you.
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 companies.
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 the 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, it 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 companies to invest in more machinery and equipment
• Provide large (up to $4,000) tax credits 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 need these incentives for small business right now. These are bipartisan ideas that can help the diverse array of small businesses here in Connecticut.
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.
Jeanne A. Hulit is New England Regional Administrator for the U.S. Small Business Administration.
You wouldn’t want to have been in the shoes of Connecticut Light & Power Chief Operating Officer Jeffrey Butler following the freak October 29 snowstorm that blanketed much of the state and plunged more than 880,000 customers into darkness throughout much of CL&P’s 149-town service area.
More than a week later (as this edition of BNH went to press), tens of thousands of Connecticut households and business were still without power, and politicians from local selectmen all the way up to the Governor’s Mansion were calling for blood.
It’s easy to see why. The double-whammy of the October snowstorm and Tropical Storm Irene in late August left much of Connecticut in the dark for multiple days twice within two months — a double-dose catastrophe that many had not seen in their lifetimes.
For its part, CL&P makes an ideal whipping-boy. Since 2003 profits at the division of Northeast Utilities have been rising steadily — not least because the utility has pared its workforce by more than ten percent over the past decade, leaving it vulnerable to unforeseen emergencies.
What was so unforeseen about the October 29 event was not the snow itself, but the fact that many trees had no shed their leaves at that early date, making them much heavier as snow accumulated on their branches.
In a rush to assign blame, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and top legislative leaders on Nov. 4 announced a sweeping inquiry into CL&P’s poor performance in restoring power to benighted Connecticut communities. Given the anti-business ardor predominating at the Capitol, it’s easy to see where this might be going: onerous and costly new regulations and mandates on electric utilities that the latter invariably pass along to their customers — thus hurting precisely the “little people” the laws were purported to protect.