The SBA Throws a Party, but Some Innovative Thinkers Don't Show Up . . .

By
Mortgage and Lending with Mercantile Capital Corporation

As a regular reader of all-things-Mercantile, you've probably noticed I've been busy putting forth countless ideas to help America's small businesses grow better, smarter, and faster. I've been advocating for the most important employer in our economy for several years (the small business owner), but things have really heated up over the last few months. The Small Business Administration (SBA), for instance, has probably been mentioned more times in the media in the past year than it has cumulatively in my lifetime. And while some of my real-world suggestions have finally been adopted by our elected officials (long after I proposed them, no less), others that SHOULD be put into action are still languishing. (You can see my most recent stab at offering even more solutions to stimulate the growth of small and mid-sized businesses in my Thursday, October 22nd post titled “SBA Loan Programs Need Bear-Grylls-Like Help”).

So yesterday, Treasury Secretary Geithner and SBA Administrator Mills hosted a conference on how to give American small businesses better access to capital and help them survive this rather unpleasant economic downturn. A very small sampling of “representative” business owners were handpicked and no-doubt, carefully screened to participate in this discussion . . . as were various politicians and lobbying groups making sure they were “seen” standing up for the “little guy.” According to one account, the attendance totaled just seventy (70) people.

Now, there will probably be several headlines today from various media outlets about how “informative” and “constructive” the conference was, but I'm choosing to label it a “party” in my headline above, since I don't think much real business will come of it. Just like in a real party, I'm sure it was heavy on socializing, but light on problem solving (particularly if there's a well-stocked bar nearby). Now, I really am optimistic about the event . . . as optimistic as a cynic like me can be. BUT . . . The rub (there's always a “rub” isn't there?) is IF any of the ideas they dreamt up actually get implemented. Public policy, like business, is ALL about execution.

Truth be told, I have a slight problem with this so-called “forum”: far too many were conspicuously NOT invited. Seventy (70) people?!? That's ALL they could manage for this critical event?!? Where were the top 200 SBA lenders? Where were the top 25 SBA-related “sources” for the media? Did the organizers look up and invite the award recipients from the last 5 years' worth of annual SBA awards? Did they invite ANY of the Inc. 500 or 5,000 winners over the past few years (those that are the fastest-growing privately-held businesses in America)? (By the way, ANY of the above criteria would have rendered us at Mercantile an invitation). I'm sincerely wondering out-loud here IF the right people were EVEN THERE?!?

How can you host a conference on improving access to capital for small businesses in the worst lending environment of the past 50 years (or more) if only a handful of the “movers-and-shakers” of the industry are there? If the most innovative small businesses in America aren't there? If it's only a select bunch? AND, if it only attracted 70 people?!? And where did bipartisanship go, by the way??? Isn't this an AMERICAN crisis that needs input from ALL angles and sources regardless of political bent? It pains me to state the obvious, but shouldn't there have been hundreds (maybe thousands) of people at this event - - overwhelming the facility they hosted it at? Shouldn't it have been billed as one of the most critical meetings in Washington this year - - be there (and stay for the whole thing) or you're really not part of the solution, you're just part of the problem? Shouldn't our President have been standing on the podium at this conference instead of standing on and sightseeing at the Great Wall of China???

Let me put some “meat on this bone” for you: someone who communicates regularly with nearly 90,000 active small business owners and their advisors, for instance, wasn't invited. Someone who regularly gets dozens (sometimes hundreds) of blog comments and responses about matters that concern the small business community wasn't asked for suggestions. Someone who's appeared in such varied media as FOX Business News, the New York Times, Inc. magazine, BusinessWeek, Entrepreneur magazine, and SmartMoney - - all just this year - - the Administration didn't even reach out to him. That someone, of course, is me . . . and since you've read this far . . . it probably also means they aren't paying attention to YOU either. Perhaps I could have been a helpful advocate yesterday.

Here's the irony: I was near Washington earlier this week; I could have been there. From Monday through Wednesday, I was there helping to create 5 to 7 jobs over the next 6 months — well-paying jobs, too (above the American average pay) - - with my new Rockville, Maryland franchisees of my Kennedy's All-American Barber Club (you can get more details at www.KennedysBarberClub.com or go visit them at 110 N. Washington Street in Rockville). I was in town, practicing what I preach about entrepreneurship - - walking my talk.

Isn't it ironic that an entrepreneur like me was up there helping a couple of other entrepreneurs get their business up and running . . . entrepreneurs who would probably open more locations (creating even more jobs) immediately if they could just get the financing they needed (at Mercantile, we won't finance ANY Kennedy's as it would be a potential conflict of interest - - yeah, I know . . . nice thought, but no). As it stands, they're going at it with their own hard-earned cash . . . and as this Club becomes successful, they'll open more - - but that may take longer than any of us really wants it to.

All I can say is that it appears certain folks in Washington LOVE jobs, but HATE employers . . . that, and they'll do anything for a photo-op. At least the theme of yesterday's conference was ACCESS to capital, NOT the COST of capital — which so many of these same folks (not in the trenches everyday) thought was the big problem since the start of the Great Recession. Think about this for a minute, if you would: what could we have REALLY done with the $3 trillion that's been spent since the global financial crisis started? Can you imagine, for instance, how things would have recovered if income taxes would have been suspended for one calendar year? And that would have cost much less than the $3 trillion that's been spent (some squandered) so far.

We really ARE facing a crisis in the small business community, and it requires IMMEDIATE ACTION. When the “too-big-to-fail” companies needed stimulus and support last fall, it was government-to-the-rescue. So what about the crisis you and I and about 27 million others are facing now? Where's the action? There are many, many more small and mid-sized businesses in America than there are great behemoth companies, and our economy depends vitally on us - - we just don't have the lobbying clout they do since we're so fragmented and fractured into so many different industries and niches, as I've discussed in this blog previously.

What will the Administration do when more of these companies - - the true backbone of the American Economy - - finally give up? Sadly, we may actually find out. A USA Today poll you might not have seen yesterday was truly scary: 52% of America's current small business owners don't think they'll be in business in 2010 and 2011!!! I'd call THAT a crisis . . . sure it's just a poll and they've been known to be “off” a little sometimes, BUT I think that ought to give some insight into what's really going on out here in the “real world.” It'll take a lot more than just 70 people looking nice in their suits for the cameras to solve it.

Dedicated to Fighting for YOU and ALL of America's Small and Mid-sized Businesses,

Chris

P.S. Perhaps one voice just isn't going to get through to them - - maybe we need more people shouting to get the Administration's attention. Take a few minutes today or tomorrow to write your Representative in Washington to push for REAL Action - - like some of the things I've been writing about here for the last several months. Maybe we can actually fix some things if we pester them enough. Maybe.

P.S.S. And don't forget, when you need commercial property financing, you SHOULD know where to turn to now. Yes, we're still lending . . . so give us a shot on the next deal you know of. Not EVERY commercial lender in this country has turned their lending spigot off. Ours is still open. And I'm pretty sure you'll I even ENJOY the lending experience with us . . . something that can't be said about most lenders.

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