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Sen. Franken Op-Ed: "The Small Business Lending Fund"

Thursday, January 20, 2011

It's no wonder that Democrats and Republicans alike supported the Small Business Jobs Act that passed last year.  After all, everyone agrees that creating jobs is an urgent priority at the top of our national agenda.  And everyone agrees that small businesses, which create a disproportionate number of jobs, are critical to our economic recovery.

That bill included $12 billion in tax relief for small businesses, along with provisions to help them compete for federal contracts and grow their exports.  And, importantly, it included measures to address perhaps the biggest challenge facing small businesses.

Although they weren't responsible for the financial meltdown that precipitated the economic downturn, too many small business owners have had to forgo plans for expansion, lay off workers, or even shutter their doors for one reason-they can't find the credit they need to keep going.

At Haberman Machine in Oakdale, they've been in business for over 70 years, manufacturing precision implements for the medical and defense industries.  This is a local, family-owned company that's been providing good-paying jobs for more than half a century. This is the exact sort of small business we're all proud to have in our community, and the kind that will lead the way out of the recession.  But when I spent some time at the plant, the owner told me that they simply can't find the credit they need to expand.

Meanwhile, at Stinar Corporation in Eagan, they're ready to hire dozens of new workers.  Rated one of the nation's top 100 defense contractors, Stinar makes support vehicles for aircraft, including for the Air Force, and have a healthy export business.  Right now, they're looking at a multi-million backlog in orders-enough to bring on 25-30 more people.  And because they use a lot of local suppliers, an expansion at Stinar could create even more Minnesota jobs.  But they're running into the same problem as Haberman-they can't find credit.

The bill we passed last year extended and expanded some existing loan programs through the U.S. Small Business Administration (Stinar's success stems in part from obtaining two SBA loans).  But on December 22, a brand new program launched: the Small Business Lending Fund (SBLF).

The SBLF works by providing capital to community banks that they can then lend to small businesses.  The more lending the community banks do, the better the rate they get from the Treasury.  The bill included $30 billion for the SBLF, and that money will start flowing soon.

It's a great idea, not only because it puts money in the pockets of small business owners who can then use it to expand and create jobs, but because it involves the local community banks which are such an important part of the financial landscape in our cities and towns.  They, too, suffered from the financial meltdown, even though they didn't create it by engaging in the same kind of greedy gambling as their Wall Street competitors.

When I was visiting Stinar this fall, I met with the owners, as well as a local community banker in the area.  I asked them specifically about the idea of creating a lending program like the SBLF, and they all agreed that it would absolutely help them to create jobs in Minnesota.

In the Senate, we've worked to lower small businesses' health care costs, offer tax incentives for small business investment, and put more money in the pockets of middle class families who are likely to spend it, thus increasing demand.

But if small businesses can't access credit, they miss out on opportunities like the ones Stinar currently has to grow and create new jobs.  And sometimes, a lack of available credit can even threaten the livelihood of a long-successful firm like Haberman Machine.

That's why I'm so pleased that the SBLF is now up and running.  By investing in Minnesota small businesses-and including the local community banks that serve them-we're really investing in our economic recovery.  That means more jobs and more opportunities for Minnesota entrepreneurs.

I hope that community banks across Minnesota will choose to participate in the SBLF program by visiting the Treasury Department's website at http://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sb-programs/Pages/Small-Business-Lending-Fund.aspx.  My office has also facilitated a conference call with Treasury so that community banks can learn about this important program.  And, as our economy begins to emerge from this devastating recession, I plan to keep listening to small business owners and working to deliver the assistance they need to lead the way.

 

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