For the head of the U.S. Small Business Administration, there is no better time to go on a bus tour across America than National Small Business Week.
“We’re seeing a bit of business growth, with record rates of business applications in 2021,” said Isabella Casillas Guzman, who called for a tour stop in Charlotte, NC to ensure we can reach as many businesses as possible, new and established, to connect them to capital markets and networks to support their businesses.
Guzman, who was tapped last year to head the U.S. government’s small business agency, spent the first week of May meeting with small business owners, announcing the agency’s pandemic response. and promoted new and evolving lending policies.
Since spring 2020, the Small Business Administration has provided nearly $ 1.2 trillion in COVID-19 relief loans and grants, including $ 800 billion through the Paycheck Protection Program. As the programs are completed, Guzman said the agency has seen a steady rise in interest on traditional 7 (a) and 504 small business loans, and seeks to increase access to such programs. , “to support small businesses with local, reliable organizations. who can connect them to resources available on an ongoing basis.”
Guzman spoke to Weather in Tampa Bay about technology and unfair pandemic relief, the Florida small business recovery and the dispute between Gov. Ron DeSantis and Disney. (This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
As you travel around the country talking to small business owners, do you see any geographic patterns of small business strength? Areas of the country where businesses are recovering faster than others?
That doesn’t have to be. But sure, those businesses that are able to use technology these days, those that can pivot and adapt and be flexible, are the ones with greater success. This week, we talked about our Small Business Digital Alliance. It’s a platform where we connect small businesses with free tools and webinars. (There is) 20 to 25 percent higher revenue recovery for small businesses that are able to adopt technology tools. Three out of four businesses say they have adopted new tools to be successful in this market. So I think if anything, it’s a story of adaptability and innovation and seeing so many small business owners supporting their communities to recover and thrive.
Is there a level of inequality among some businesses accessing that technology during a pandemic?
In fact, demographic differences are obvious. Businesses owned by people of color have experienced initially higher closures and many challenges in accessing comfort. So in 2021, we’re focused on trying to make sure PPP gets into the hands of the smallest of small businesses, and low -income and rural communities, and we’ve been successful in doing that, to lower the average size. -on a PPP loan to support smaller entities. That’s part of the pandemic story.
What about coming back before the pandemic? Does the help that the SBA flows into small businesses illuminate any pre-pandemic weak spots in grant and loan programs that you are trying to permanently correct?
What we have discovered is the successes of PPP. The SBA has shrunk significantly to serve more businesses than ever before, millions of businesses. We have over 5,000 lenders participating in the PPP. So a broader distribution network, technology for measurement, and a focus and commitment to equity to try to reach more of our small businesses-those principles have really helped us. in terms of reaching a wider audience. That’s why we’re applying that to our programs today. We recently launched changes to the Community Advantage pilot program. It focuses on small dollar loans, where there have always been gaps over the past 10 years. (We) have actually seen gaps in the number of lenders willing to make small dollar loans. That’s a program where we’ve simplified eligibility and underwriting and made terms more flexible so that more small businesses can access cheap capital through an expanded network of mission-based lenders. .
Florida is one of the states opening up for business faster than others in the spring and summer of 2020. Did that help restaurants and other small businesses survive without them?
I found some initial research to be less clear, actually. Consumer behavior and the pandemic itself have an impact across the board. Small businesses across the country still face challenges as they navigate the pandemic.
Florida has traditionally gotten a lot of mileage from its reputation as a business -friendly state, with no state income tax and low corporate income tax. From where you sit, what kind of state-level policies make a state attractive to, and supportive of, small business owners?
Across the board, small businesses need to adapt to constant change. If there is a strong ecosystem that supports them, we see much better success. States with a major focus on new startups, universities, research institutions to foster innovation, they have a healthy stream of new startups, as well as business interests. and economic strength as a whole.
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I’m sure you’re following The fight of Gov. DeSantis at Disney over the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Disney is one of the largest corporations in the world, but do you think the effects of dealing with a company for public statements could fall on small business owners?
For the most part, our small businesses, they are the core of our neighborhoods and communities. I hope that many of them can continue to be strong community leaders, regardless of political or environmental issues.