Mayor and SBA do business

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Mayor Alvin Brown hosted his first “Business Builder” educational program and exposition Tuesday afternoon at the Osborn Center.

An hour after the meeting began, Brown and U.S. Small Business Administration Administrator Karen Mills signed a memorandum of understanding for the City and the federal government to work together to promote small business in Jacksonville.

“Show me the money,” said Brown as he put down his pen.

Mills said she has visited 40 states since she was sworn in as head of the SBA April 6, 2009, after being appointed by President Barack Obama. She said Tuesday was her second visit to Jacksonville.

“I was very impressed with the entire business community. Now, you’ve got the mayor, so it’s magical,” Mills said.

She said she has traveled across the country meeting mayors and small business owners to find out what they need to be successful. She described Tuesday’s meeting as “a great event” that was intended to “connect small businesses with resources.”

Mills said based on surveys, the No. 1 concern of small business is access to capital. Local financial institutions and the SBA participated in a resource exposition that was part of the “Business Builder” program and Mills explained steps the federal government has taken to encourage banks to loan money to entrepreneurs. She said 2011 was a record year for government-guaranteed lending.

“The SBA raised the guarantee to 90 percent and we reduced or eliminated fees. There was $30 billion in lending to small business in 2011 guaranteed by the SBA. We were able to get 1,000 banks back to SBA lending which had not made a loan since 2007,” said Mills.

She cited the statistics that small businesses create two of three new jobs and that half of the people who are working own or work for a small business.

“The unemployment rate is down to 8.3 percent. It’s happening because of small businesses,” Mills said.

Mills said access to capital still is not as available as it should be and one area of deficiency is what she called “microlenders.”

“We need more smaller-dollar loans — $50,000-$250,000,” she said.

The other major concern among small business owners is marketing but “what you really want is revenue,” Mills said.

She touted federal contracts as “the largest program in the federal government for small business” because, by law, 23 percent of all government contracts have to be awarded to small businesses. That amounts to more than $100 billion each year,

“The government wins, the taxpayer wins and small business wins,” Mills said.

“We’re by your side and we’ll be there with you,” she said.

The next “Business Builder” program is scheduled May 17-18 at a Downtown location to be determined, Brown said.

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