SBA administrator remains focused on helping businesses

Phil Castle, The Business Times:

Daniel Hannaher
Daniel Hannaher

Daniel Hannaher has been helping small businesses since he was a child working at his family’s office furniture dealership in North Dakota.

Of course, the role is considerably different today for Hannaher, who’s in charge of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) in a six-state region that includes Colorado.

Still, Hannaher said he — and the federal agency for which he works — remains focused on helping businesses. That includes everything from assisting businesses to secure financing to obtaining government contracts to exporting products. Just as often, entrepreneurs simply need advice about starting new ventures or running existing operations.

The recent promotion of the national SBA administrator to a cabinet-level position reflects the growing prominence of the agency, Hannaher said. “There’s been a lot of focus on the SBA and its programs. … We’re busy on all fronts.”

An appointee of President Barack Obama, Hannaher has served as administrator of SBA Region VIII since 2009. Hannaher works out of the regional headquarters in Denver, but oversees SBA programs and services in a 582,00 square-mile swath of the West that includes Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming.

Hannaher brought to the position more than 30 years of experience working at a small business, 22 of that as president of Hannaher’s, his family’s office furniture and design business in Fargo.

After several years of recession, Hannaher said a number of signs point to economic recovery. “I think the economy is catching up and doing reasonably well.”

The decreasing number of signs along Interstate Highway 70 in Denver advertising commercial properties for lease also offers encouragement, he added. “A lot of them are gone. Now to me, that’s good news.”

Nonetheless, unemployment rates in many areas of Colorado remain too high, Hannaher said. And for those unsuccessfully looking for work, an improving economy offers little consolation “If somebody doesn’t have a job, there ain’t no growth,” Hannaher said.

The SBA offers assistance to small businesses that in turn can lead to job growth, he said.

The dollar volume of loans backed by the SBA rebounded to record levels in Colorado and the United States during the 2011 fiscal year. SBA-backed lending surged to $620 million in Colorado and $30.5 billion nationwide. Lending activity in Mesa County bucked that trend, however, declining in FY 2011 to $5.8 million.

In addition to its 7 (a) general business loan program and 504 program to finance land, buildings and equipment, the SBA has promoted another program offering a line of credit, Hannaher said.

At the same time, the agency has strived to reduce the paperwork involved with SBA-backed loan programs while still making sure applicants have the ability to repay those loans, Hannaher said. Having been involved in SBA loan programs as a businessman himself, he said he remembers what the process was like. “I know how big those stacks can be.”

Along with providing more access to financing, the SBA has focused on helping small businesses sell their goods and services to the federal government, the biggest single purchaser in the world, Hannaher said.

The agency also has stepped up its efforts to help small businesses export goods and services to overseas markets as part of a goal by the Obama administration to increase U.S. exports, he said. The SBA offers financial backing as well as a technical assistance in promoting exports.

What small businesses need most, Hannaher said, is a strong economy that fosters increased sales. But owners also need assistance in evaluating their business plans to make the most of their operations,  he said.

To that end, the SBA offers counseling through a variety of means, Hannaher said. Advice is available through a network of Small Business Development Centers, including the SBDC located at the Business Incubator Center in Grand Junction. A wide range of resources also are available online through the SBA Web site.

Hannaher said he’s enjoyed helping small businesses — whether it’s running his family operation in North Dakota or overseeing programs and services that assist new and existing firms in Colorado. “It’s been a thrilling ride.”