A new year offers the perfect time to dream about the future and set new goals and resolutions. If your plans include starting a new business, the best place to start is with the U.S. Small Business Administration. The agency remains committed to providing access and opportunity to Americans who are — or who want to become — small business owners.
For a variety of reasons, rural communities could be underserved when it comes to getting the tools needed to grow a business and create jobs. This includes residents of some small and medium-sized towns on the Western Slope. With resource partners located throughout Colorado, SBA provides services to small businesses that need help. We have a vast network with proven experience, especially in areas with otherwise limited access to financial and technical assistance.
Importantly, many of our staff travel to rural counties in Colorado and are familiar with their unique small business needs. In fact, many of our resource partners live and work in Grand Junction or nearby communities. Check out your own local resources at www.sba.gov/direct simply by typing in your ZIP code.
SBA resource partners include the Small Business Development Center at the Business Incubator Center in Grand Junction. The SBDC provides professional business counseling for little or no cost. SBDC staff knows what it takes to start and finance a business on the Western Slope. Questions about licenses, loans, local regulations, leasing, inventory and many other topics can be answered. For more information or assistance, call 243-5242 or log on to www.coloradosbdc.org.
For the first nine months of 2011, Colorado Small Business Development Centers provided counseling and access to capital assistance to more than 4,400 clients, in the process retaining or creating 3,900 jobs.
In addition to these counseling efforts, access to capital remains atop the SBA agenda. Small firms require financing to grow, hire new employees and invest in the future. Many Grand Junction-area clients qualified for loans in 2011 and will be expanding their businesses in the coming new year.
For the 2011 fiscal year which ended Sept. 30, SBA guaranteed a record number of loans throughout Colorado, including $489 million of traditional 7 (a) bank financing and $129.8 million of certified development company loans.
Rural lenders already issue a significant number of loans backed through SBA programs. Unfortunately, there are still gaps in the marketplace. SBA studies show that low-dollar small business loans are particularly important for economic development in rural communities.
While overall small business lending has started to come back after the recession, we still see a need to work harder with small banks located in smaller towns. 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, 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 use streamlined paperwork to get the deals done.
In addition to counseling and lending programs, the SBA also helps connect small businesses to 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; minority and disadvantaged firms; and, new for 2011, women-owned businesses.
As always, assistance and information is available by calling the Colorado SBA district office at the (303) 844-2607 or visiting the SBA Web site at www.sba.gov.