At your service: SBA strives to assist underserved communities
The U.S. Small Business Administration remains committed to providing access and opportunity to Americans who are — or 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 help grow businesses and create jobs. This includes residents of some rural areas, minorities, women, veterans 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 members of the staff around the country are familiar with their unique small business communities and how to meet their needs. Many district offices and resource partners have bilingual or multilingual staff. Check out available local resources at www.sba.gov/direct simply by typing in your ZIP code.
Our resource partners include about 800 Small Business Development Centers 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 finance, marketing, production and management. In Grand Junction, the SBDC is located in the Business Incubator Center at 2591 Legacy Way. For more information, call 243-5242.
We also have 110 Women’s Business Centers and 350 chapters of SCORE, a 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 remains atop the SBA agenda. Small firms need financing to grow, 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. 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. 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’re 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 Certified Development Companies, micro lenders and others who keep at least 60 percent of their portfolios in underserved markets.
Community Advantage will let these organizations issue 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, the SBA also helps connect small businesses with the world’s largest customer — the U.S. government. Working closely with other federal agencies, we help set aside nearly a 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 (HUBZones), minority and disadvantaged firms (8 (a) programs) and — new for 2011 — women-owned businesses.
To further drive targeted strategies for underserved communities, we recently convened the first meeting of our Council on Underserved Communities. The council provides advice and recommendations on how the SBA can do even more to reach out.
Here at the SBA, we will continue to put more tools in the hands of job-creating small business, including those in underserved communities. We would like to hear from you on how best we can move forward together.