U.S. Small Business Administration acting Mid-Atlantic regional administrator Steve Bulger and other SBA officials promoted the agency and its services during a mid-morning visit to Kanawha City earlier this week.
The two-hour SBA Access to Capital Forum was held on Wednesday, Oct. 23, at the Sam Bowling Conference Center at City National Bank in Kanawha City.
During Wednesday’s event, Bulger and fellow SBA officials networked and shared information with commercial lenders, economic development leaders and others, to inform them of ways to help small business owners obtain access to capital to build and strengthen their businesses.
President Donald Trump appointed Bulger as the Regional Administrator for SBA Atlantic Region II in January 2018. Along with those duties, Bulger was appointed Acting Regional Administrator for Mid-Atlantic Region III, which includes West Virginia, last month. He oversees a field staff of more than 100 loan, business and community outreach specialists who oversee the delivery and management of SBA programs, financial assistance and business development initiatives throughout the Mid-Atlantic Region.
“This is really my first large event here in West Virginia,” Bulger said. “It’s perfect, because having the West Virginia Bankers Association host this lenders’ conference, this is exactly our strongest wheelhouse: providing capital access to small businesses. We have people from D.C. here who are the real experts on that, but that’s what the SBA is most well-known for. We have a lot of programs to help small businesses, from mentoring and counseling to helping with federal contracting, to support for exporters and international trade and a whole bunch of other things, too.
“Working with our lending partners to provide capital and loans to small businesses is, I believe, our core mission of the SBA,” he said.
Bulger said a special focus of the program was the SBA 504 Loan Program, “but it’s lending writ large through the SBA’s products.
“The real key for the SBA is our partners. The federal government, we don’t actually lend taxpayer dollars to small businesses,” Bulger said. “We rely heavily on our lending partners who are represented here today to work with the small businesses — to have them apply for the loans; come to us when they’re looking for a little bit more security and guarantee on that; and, one way or another, make sure the financing is flowing to eligible small businesses that are looking to start, grow and expand.”
According to the SBA, almost 99 percent of businesses in West Virginia are small, and they make up nearly half of the state’s private workforce.
“Because small business is such a high-percentage niche here in West Virginia,” Bulger said, “this is where we want to put even greater focus. That’s one reason why we’re here today, to make sure that all the resources from the federal government for small businesses, which is spearheaded by the SBA, are being made available to our small business community here in West Virginia.
“There is a real focus from this administration in Washington to help our rural areas,” Bulger continued. “We have been working for the last couple of years on growing and expanding our footprint, our contacts and our efforts in rural areas, so this is a natural outgrowth of that.”
SBA senior adviser William Briggs focuses on SBA loan programs and spoke at the forum about some of them. “We have three main loan programs,” he said. “The one we’re focusing on today is the 504 Loan Program. We’re talking, primarily, to lenders today, but the real benefit is that a small business could invest in heavy equipment or manufacturing or a fixed asset and get a 25-year loan at an interest rate below 4 percent, fixed for the life of the loan.
“The prime [rate] right now, I think, is 5 or 4.75 percent,” he said. “They can get a better interest rate for 25 years, fixed, below prime. ... That has job creation requirements, but it’s a great way to invest in fixed assets, especially manufacturing and those kinds of things that really create jobs. That’s what we’re stressing today.”
“We’re charged with filing the 504 Loan Program on behalf of the SBA,” said Brent Swanson of the Certified Development Company, a forum attendee. “That program helps small businesses finance owner-occupied commercial real estate and equipment. In order to use the program, a borrower and a bank need to engage with the CDC. We partner with the banks. Our main goal is to further relationships with the lenders and promote the SBA 504 Loan Program.”
SBA Public Affairs Specialist Nikki Bowmar said more than 50 individuals from throughout West Virginia and surrounding states attended the forum.
For more information about SBA programs and services, visit sba.gov.