Need assistance launching or expanding your self-storage business? The top official at the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) says her agency is ready to help.
“We are seeing that small businesses are now fully engaged in a recovery trend, and what we are trying to do is accelerate that trend for small business. They used to come to me and say, ‘I need a loan to save my business.’ Now they come and say, ‘I need a loan to take advantage of an opportunity,’” Karen Mills, administrator of the SBA, said in an interview with SelfStorage.com.
Unfreezing the Loan Market
Mills visited Arlington, TX, on Tuesday to talk with entrepreneurs as part of a five-city tour celebrating the 50th anniversary of the SBA’s National Small Business Week. About 1,000 business owners signed up for the Arlington event.
Events on the tour include the SBA’s successful matchmaking process, which hooks up small businesses with large corporations and federal agencies to pitch their businesses and learn about contracting opportunities. The events also feature speed mentoring sessions and a variety of workshops.
“When I started in this job (in 2009), the biggest challenge for small business was that the lending market was frozen,” Mills said. “Banks had stopped making loans. The number one thing we did was get SBA lending kick-started. We did that through the Recovery Act by raising our guarantee to 90 percent and eliminating our fees.”
The past two years were record lending years for the SBA, with more than $60 billion in loans. But the message for 2013 is different, said Mills, noting that small businesses are in growth mode now, not just survival mode. She said they’re seeking information on expansions, exports, online marketing and supply-chain growth.
Self-storage businesses, most of which are operated by entrepreneurs, need help achieving growth, Mills said.
“Sometimes right when you expand, that’s when you encounter more issues than you ever anticipated, so you need an adviser who can help you get to the next level,” she said. “And, very often, you need expansion capital, and that is where the SBA comes in.”
Lending Gaps Linger
Mills said she sees improvement in small business lending but acknowledged that gaps remain, particularly in loans under $350,000, which haven’t returned to pre-recession levels.
President Obama’s 2014 budget plan includes a request to eliminate all fees charged on SBA loans of less than $150,000. Getting rid of fees worked well during the recession to boost lending, but those fees later were reinstituted. If Obama’s 2014 budget request is approved, fees on small loans would be eliminated beginning Oct. 1.
Mills said the SBA also has spent nearly four years working to get more banks back into the small-loan market by simplifying the SBA lending process. The agency removed about 100 pages of paperwork from the loan process without damaging due diligence or oversight, she said.
Besides funding, though, the SBA can provide self-storage owners and operators with a wide array of services—from writing a business plan to providing free counseling.
“We want the SBA to be ubiquitous. We want every small business owner to turn to the SBA and get the benefits of counseling expertise, the access to capital, the opportunity to bid on federal contracts, the disaster relief—things that we have in the portfolio to provide access and opportunity,” said Mills, who announced in February that she’s stepping down from the SBA post.
Michael Minton, president and CEO of Minton Sportsplex in Texarkana, TX, said his company has taken out some SBA loans during its 26-year history, but also has benefited from the agency’s other resources. Minton was named Texas SBA Entrepreneur of the Year in 2012.
“The heart of the SBA is the counseling, the SCORE program, the volunteers, the retired businessmen who donate their time to educate and counsel future entrepreneurs. I’ve certainly benefited from that,” Minton said.
The fitness center began as a 3,000-square-foot business catering to adults only. Today, it occupies 6 acres and more than 100,000 square feet with a focus on combating childhood obesity.
Aid from AARP
The Arlington event included AARP President Robert Romasco, who said his group formed a partnership with the SBA last year to offer advice on entrepreneurship to the 50-and-over crowd. The two organizations said they expect to counsel 100,000 entrepreneurs in that age group within the first year of the partnership. The effort includes webinars and events across the country.
“We try to help people understand they are not alone,” Romasco said. “That’s why we partnered with the SBA.”