The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) launched an 11-city economic growth tour this week. The first was held yesterday in Bangor, Maine. The regional events are designed to help entrepreneurs and small-businesses hook-up with local bankers, venture capitalists, resource and trade partners, as well as local SBA staff.
Hewlett-Packard is a key sponsor of the events, which also helps small businesses gain insight into new technologies. HP is also a sponsor of the SBA's "matchmaking program," which is designed to help small businesses gain access to government contracts.
David Albritton, HP public relations director and national director of small business matchmaking program, said the theme of this week's event was to listen to small businesses and gain insight into the issues they face each day.
"Access to capital is key," Albritton said. "The SBA has the programs that can often help a small business gain access to capital. Knowledge about the SBA programs is important to small businesses. For participants, these sessions are about education, access, and understanding."
U.S. Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine) participated in the event. Snowe, chair of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, applauded the SBA's efforts to reach out to small businesses.
Last week, Sen. Snowe introduced a bill to establish a pilot program that would allow the SBA to scrutinize pools of conventional, small business loans, similar to those used for home mortgages. At the time, Sen. Snow said the bill would increase capital available to small businesses, without creating additional risk for the government.
"It offers a truly innovative and low-risk strategy to fuel long-term lending to the very wellspring of job growth in our economy small business," Sen. Snowe said. "Fortunately, the SBA's partial guarantees on the pools of small business loans would be paid for by fees charged to the financial firms administering the pooling, thereby making no new appropriations necessary."
In a statement, Hector V. Barreto, SBA Administrator, said small businesses play a vital role in creating opportunity for millions of Americans.
"It is critical that we create an environment where entrepreneurship can flourish by giving small businesses a break on their taxes whenever possible, making their health insurance more affordable, and providing them with the information they need to succeed," Baretto said. "These conferences allow us to meet with small business owners across the country, and hear firsthand what we can do to ensure even greater success."
One of those success stories is Tom's of Maine, a manufacturer of Natural Care products. Founded in 1970, the small business received a $30,000 SBA loan in 1973 that provided working capital for personnel, product development and equipment.
Tom Chappell, Tom's of Maine president and co-founder, shared his story of how the SBA helped his company grow from a $5,000 start-up in 1970 to a burgeoning $38 million business today.
"The SBA is committed to fostering innovation, growth, and creativity in America's small businesses, and many of these businesses including Tom's of Maine would not be here without the SBA's early support," Chappell said.
HP's Albritton said more than 350 small business leaders from throughout New England attended the event, which also marked the 50th anniversary of the SBA. Since 1953, the SBA has helped more than 20 million Americans start, grow and expand their businesses placing more than $232 billion in direct or guaranteed loans and venture capital into the hands of entrepreneurs. In 2003 alone, the SBA has participated in over 6,000 loans totaling more than $600 million.