SBA directors share mission of helping businesses

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Matt Varilek
Matt Varilek
Edward Cadena
Edward Cadena

Matt Varilek and Ed Cadena have a lot in common.

They both worked as newspaper carriers as children and grew up in families that encouraged hard work and entrepreneurship.

Varilek and Cadena now work as administrators with the U.S. Small Business Administration, and they have the same message for small business owners: the federal agency offers a variety of resources that can help them succeed.

“We can’t guarantee success, but we can improve the odds,” Varilek said.

Varilek serves as administrator of SBA Region VIII, a seven-state area that includes Colorado. Cadena took over earlier this year as director of the SBA district office in Colorado.

Both men work out of offices in Denver, but recently came to Grand Junction as part of a four-day trip to Western Colorado that included meetings with bankers, business groups, government officials and, of course, small business owners.

In a wide-ranging interview at the Business Times, Varilek and Cadena discussed their backgrounds, their trip and SBA programs that can help small businesses.

Varilek has served more than a year as regional director. Before his appointment, Varilek served as  economic development director in the office of U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson, a Democrat from South Dakota. In that role, Varilek advised Johnson on issues related to entrepreneurship, small businesses and the economy. Varilek also served as an advisor to Tom Daschle, a former U.S. Senator from South Dakota.

Varilek worked in the private sector as director of policy and research for Natsource, a New York-based energy brokerage, and analyzed commodity markets.

He holds a master’s degree in environment and development from the University of Cambridge in England as well as a master’s degree in economic development from the University of Glasgow in Scotland.

Growing up in South Dakota, Varilek said he worked as a newspaper carrier at time when carriers still collected from subscribers. He said that and other jobs offered an early exposure to entrepreneurism.

Later, Varilek said he helped his wife launch a consulting firm she initially operated from the couple’s kitchen table.

Cadena became Colorado district director in May, the latest position in a 17-year tenure with the SBA.

Cadena served as director of the SBA Nevada District Office for four years. He previously served as acting district director of the Lubbock, Texas, and Albuquerque, N.M., district offices. Prior to joining the SBA, he worked a total of 18 years with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and Resolution Trust Corp.

Cadena said he grew up in New Mexico, the son of a barber. Like Varilek, Cadena said he worked as a newspaper carrier and in other jobs. It was an upbringing that inspired hard work and entrepreneurism, Cadena said. “My dad made us work for everything we got.”

In their latest roles, Varilek and Cadena oversee a variety of program and services the SBA offers in the region and Colorado.

Their duties include leaving their offices in Denver to personally explore what’s happening in other areas and to discuss and address the concerns of the small business owners with which they meet, they said.

One of the concerns, they said, is that the economy hasn’t recovered to the same extent in on the Western Slope as the Front Range.

“The recovery is coming along, but lagging the Front Range,” Varilek said.

Cadena said the small business owners with which he’s talked were concerned, but also optimistic that conditions will improve.

The SBA can help accelerate the recovery in helping small businesses grow their operations and staff, Varilek and Cadena said.

The SBA offers a variety of loan guarantee programs that offer financing to businesses that might not qualify under conventional terms, they said. Moreover, fees have been dropped under some of the programs and the processing streamlined to make the loans even more attractive.

The agency also offers a range of free resources to help entrepreneurs start and grow ventures as well as land contracts with the federal government.

Some of those resources are offered through the Small Business Development Center at the Business Incubator Center in Grand Junction. Varilek and Cadena visited the center during their trip and said the facility serves as a model in bringing together in one place so many resources to help businesses. “It’s got everything,” Cadena said.

The message Varilek and Cadena said they hoped to convey to entrepreneurs during their trip as well as on an ongoing basis is that help is available.

“We have resources that can help them and they should get in touch,” Varilek said.