Despite drastic budget cuts, Michael Barrera, national ombudsman for the United States Small Business Administration, said the SBA continues to deliver on its promise to support and fund small business growth.
“IT is at the core of our mission at the SBA, and as government resources shrink, IT helps make us more efficient in delivering to our constituents,” said Barrera.
“Our budget has dropped, but were doing more.”
In fact, since 2001 the SBA budget has been reduced roughly 50 percent to the almost $600 million scheduled for 2006.
His comments came during a keynote presentation at Wednesdays online Ziff Davis Internet SMB (small and midsize business) Solutions Virtual Tradeshow 2005.
In addition to adopting technology to speed internal processes, Barrera said the SBA has refocused its funds on the most important and successful programs, and he highlighted those existing programs for tradeshow participants.
“Its so important that people know what the SBA has, and know that we want to help,” he said.
According to Barrera, still among the most successful and expanding assistance programs is the SBAs Capital Access program, which provide backing for loans that financial institutions make to SMBs, essentially guaranteeing those loans will be paid in full.
In 2005, SBA made more than $21 billion available to SMBs, and over the past year has increased the number of individual loans from 40,000 to more than 100,000.
SBA Express is one such loan program that makes available loans of up to $350,000 with minimal requirements and can be used for a wide range of business improvement projects, from IT infrastructure to building expansion and development.
Advocating for contracts
Barrera noted that a big portion of SBAs efforts also goes toward advocating for SMB contracts within the federal government.
By law, SMBs must account for 23 percent of all federal contracts, and SBA helps get small business owners in front of those agencies.
According to Barrera, some $65.5 billion in contracts went to small business from the federal government last year.
“The government buys everything from pencils to software to rockets,” Barrera said. “You need to know how to get to the government.”
SBAs Business Matchmaking program, which Barrera described as a “combination of eHarmony and speed dating,” gathers small businesses for quick capabilities interviews, which SBA can then match with a buyer.
In two years, SBA has tracked $30 million in confirmed contracts based on this program.
Other assistance programs available include small business counseling and training, regulatory relief and assistance in meeting federal regulations, international trade programs and promotions, as well as “faith-based and community initiatives,” which encourage churches to support entrepreneurs in their areas.
Barrera was quick to point out that churches of “any denomination” are encouraged to get involved in the program.
Politics also figured into Barreras presentation.
Though the intensity of the administrations focus on Social Security reform has decreased in the past several months, Barrera said the SBA believes private accounts will benefit self-employed small business owners in particular, and encouraged participants to be open to conversation about these reforms.
The SBA also strongly supports the CAFTA (Central American Free Trade Agreement) as a means of opening up Latin America to U.S. businesses, including SMBs.
“The countries under CAFTA represent a $15 billion market and an incredible opportunity for small businesses,” said Barrera.
Referring indirectly to the Middle East, Barrera said that “opening business is a way to stabilize these areas, so we dont have to spend our money militarily.”
Barreras main point, however, was to focus on those services still available to SMBs that need them.
“Small business is the engine that runs our economy,” he said. “Without small business, our economy just doesnt work.”
SMBs account for 51 percent of all employed individuals in the United States, and 61 percent of all jobs created in this country come from SMBs.
“Its critical that SBA help businesses in any way that we can,” Barrera said. “Were the one government agency that can say Were the government, and were here to help you.”
Barreras keynote will be archived at http://www.smb.eseminarslive.com, and the Enterprise Solutions virtual tradeshow continues through Thursday with discussions, keynotes and sponsor exhibits.
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