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Q&A talks with Anne Hunt, the new Connecticut district director of the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Q: You recently became the new head of the Small Business Administration's Connecticut office. What in your background made you suited for the new position? What do you think your strengths are?
A: I have worked for the SBA for about 35 years in Boston, serving most recently as the deputy district director. Most of my career, however, was as the chief of finance and lead lender relations specialist. During my many years, I developed wonderful relationships with lenders. The Massachusetts office was always a top producer of SBA loans, ranking in the top three SBA offices out of 68.
I am hoping to bolster SBA lending in the state of Connecticut.
I am very familiar and have worked very closely with a lot of Connecticut lenders over the years. I also had a tremendous relationship with our other partners, SCORE, Small Business Development Centers and the Women's Business Centers. I am hoping to create great working relationships with the Connecticut partners.
Q: What are some initiatives you would like to undertake for the SBA in Connecticut? What are some of your plans for the office?
A: I am a big believer in collaboration. I am hoping to build stronger relationships for the Connecticut District Office. We have a great SBA team here and I am hoping to bring the SBA programs to every corner of the state and to make sure that all small business owners are aware of our many programs and services and know how to take advantage of them.
I want to make sure that the citizens of Connecticut know that the SBA stands for Smart, Bold and Accessible.
Q: You're coming from a long career in the Massachusetts SBA office. What are some of the differences you see between the two states when it comes to small business?
A: Massachusetts has been growing at a faster rate than Connecticut. I know that as of the end of 2015, the unemployment rate in Connecticut was just above the national average, where Massachusetts was below. I am also hearing about layoffs that have been recently announced. Laid- off employees who may want to start their own small business, may want to connect with our office.
Q: There was a report recently issued by American Express OPEN that showed Connecticut lagged the nation for the growth of women-owned businesses. Do you see that as an opportunity for the SBA?
A: The SBA has been in the forefront of lending to women-owned businesses both nationally and in the state of Connecticut. In fact, SBA's lending to women entrepreneurs is up significantly. Nationally, over the past three years, lending to women is up over 36 percent and in Connecticut the increase is over 58 percent.
Additionally, when we look at March 2015 compared to March 2016, women loans are up over 35 percent. For the first time ever, the government met its 5 percent statutory goal for contracts awarded to women-owned small businesses. Women entrepreneurs received $17.8 billion of federal business last year. That's an all-time high.
Q: What are some of the misconceptions people have about the SBA?
A: That we offer grants to people to start their own business. This, unfortunately, is not the case. The SBA does not lend money directly to small businesses. What we do is provide up to an 85 percent loan guaranty to a bank willing to make a loan that they are unable to make conventionally. This may be because the small business owner does not have enough collateral to secure the loan fully, or the business needs longer terms to pay the loan, or the business may be a startup, with unproven results. SBA is here to take some risk to help businesses get much needed capital and to help the bank get to the “yes” decision.
Another myth is that it can take an excessive amount of paperwork and time to get an SBA loan. In the last decade, the SBA has made significant improvements in our processing times and to make our loan programs more user friendly for lenders and small business applicants. In the past year alone, we have introduced two major new technology initiatives, SBAONE, an online loan processing platform, and LINC, an online matching program that connects small businesses needing capital with lenders.
Q: What's the best-kept secret about the SBA? What does it do that small business largely isn't aware of?
A: SBA provides a wealth of management advice to small business owners through our resource partners, all done free of charge and confidentially. We can help businesses expand through government-contracting programs and provide them help with exporting their products or services worldwide.
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