A regional administrator with the U.S. Small Business Association paid a visit to Pine Bluff on Thursday to educate local business owners on how to obtain loans and compete for government contracts.
Ted James, an appointee of President Biden who oversees the SBA's Region 6 (South Central U.S.), told the locals inside the downtown Pine Bluff/Jefferson County Library he "firmly believes" any problem in any community can be solved by accessing capital.
"I am big on making sure the little guy has a chance to get a return on the tax dollars sent to Washington, D.C.," James said.
Small business advisers including those from the Arkansas District Office of the SBA and Arkansas Small Business Technology Development Center (ASBTDC) met with the business owners for about two hours, sharing how the district office has delivered more than $10 billion in federal covid-19 disaster support to Arkansas-based borrowers during fiscal year 2022. Small business in America is a $2 trillion industry and the average loan the SBA approves is for $1 million, officials say.
"Small business, from the SBA's perspective, is 500 employees or less," said Jerry Talbert, Arkansas SBA deputy district director.
SBA officials touted 8(a) Business Development, a nine-year program named after Section 8(a) of the Small Business Act that helps businesses run by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals compete and have "equitable access to contracting opportunities," according to an online program overview.
"It's to level the playing field to get the biggest impact in the areas that need it the most, to level the playing field to be able to get them that sole-source contract," Talbert said.
In the past three years, Talbert said, Arkansas has seen government contracts with small businesses increase from $8 million to $60 million. Presently, he said, 13 businesses are contracted with government entities.
"We do that through direct face-to-face engagement with our buyers," Talbert said.
Some local leaders like Codney Washington, an owner of multiple small businesses who is also interim director of The Generator in Pine Bluff, attended to obtain and pass along valuable information to other entrepreneurs.
"We're a partner along with Communities Unlimited and ASBTDC as well, so we work together with those organizations to help businesses get to where they need to be," Washington said. "My goal is more so helping other businesses in Pine Bluff get established and get what they need in order to operate."
Angelisa Henry directs the Pine Bluff office of the ASBTDC, located on the second floor of the UAPB Business Support Incubator and Office Complex at 615 S. Main, just across the street from the library. The Pine Bluff office, one of 11 ASBTDC locations, opened in January and services UAPB as well as Jefferson, Arkansas, Monroe and Phillips counties.
"Anybody who's in any phase of their business can come," Henry said. "They can come if they have an idea, or they may be coming because they're already in business, or they may be coming because they already started the process with their bank. But, basically, our intent is to offer resources and tools to make sure they're equipped to take their package to the bank to seek loan and lending and financing for their specific businesses. So, we help with business plans, a lot of different webinars and classes to give them the information they need to be well-equipped to sustain and start their businesses and seek funding for their businesses."
On average, Henry's office works with 20 to 30 businesses, she estimated, but she's looking to boost that number.
"We are here, we are open, and we're ready to accept new people, no matter where they are in their business," Henry said. "We're here to help them."
The services featured during the meeting, including business development and lending, are free.
To reach the Pine Bluff ASBTDC, call (870) 575-8033. More information about the Arkansas District Office of the SBA is available at sba.gov/ar .