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July 13, 2023

In New Haven, U.S. SBA Administrator Guzman talks helping CT small businesses

PHOTO | Michelle Tuccitto Sullo Isabella Casillas Guzman, administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration, left, with Congresswoman Rosa L. DeLauro, on July 11 at the Kiara Matos Studio on Orange Street in New Haven.

Isabella Casillas Guzman, administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration, toured several small New Haven businesses on July 11, during a visit to Connecticut with Congresswoman Rosa L. DeLauro.

A key part of Guzman’s role is serving as the voice for U.S. small businesses. She visited locations in Connecticut as part of the White House’s “Investing in America” tour.

President Joe Biden’s Investing in America agenda includes several major spending initiatives like the Inflation Reduction Act, CHIPS and Science Act, Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, and American Rescue Plan. 

A key part of the strategy includes boosting infrastructure and clean energy investment and U.S. manufacturing. 

About 99.4% of businesses in Connecticut are small employers, and those 360,127 companies employ 48.2% of the state’s workforce, according to SBA statistics. It defines small businesses as those with fewer than 500 employees. 

On Tuesday, Guzman and DeLauro met with multiple city officials and entrepreneurs, such as G Cafe Bakery and Kiara Matos Studio, which are both on Orange Street in New Haven.

DeLauro, a member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, said she is working in Washington, D.C., to ensure the SBA is adequately funded so it can continue to provide key programming to help small businesses. 

Any reductions, DeLauro said, would mean less opportunity, and less ability to foster a climate where budding entrepreneurs can start their businesses. 

During their Elm City stop, Guzman and DeLauro chatted with the Hartford Business Journal about the state of small business and what the SBA can do to help them.

In fiscal year 2022, the SBA supported 563 loans valued at $240.7 million to Connecticut small businesses via its two largest lending programs. 

Q. What are the key issues facing small businesses in the U.S. and Connecticut?

Guzman: Broadly, we have seen a small business boom. It is important to note that with the American Rescue Plan and the president’s Investing in America agenda, small businesses are starting at incredible rates. 

In Connecticut, there have been over 100,000 new business applications filed in the last couple of years. Clearly, there are lots of new entrepreneurs out there, as well as existing entrepreneurs who need the services of the SBA.

During the pandemic, they have faced tremendous challenges. They continue to navigate workforce issues, trying to make sure they have the right teams in place. They continue to need affordable capital, which is what the SBA does. 

They need technical assistance and knowledge on how to develop strong vendor relationships. The SBA gives free mentorship and free advice to our small businesses.

Q. What is being done to help?

Guzman: Women and people of color have been leading on rates of entrepreneurship. Our underserved communities, those in rural areas, veterans, startups, they really need assistance and oftentimes face the biggest barriers. 

The Biden-Harris administration has doubled down on making sure that we can take down those barriers to accessing capital with regulatory reform. We are pleased to be seeing (the) simplification of our rules, and expansion of our distribution networks so we can meet businesses where they are. 

That is really critical so they can be part of the great opportunities in the Investing in America agenda. There have been billions invested in infrastructure as well as the clean energy economy and manufacturing.

DeLauro: What is critically important is the focus of the administration. It is about small businesses. Today we visited businesses like G Cafe. They have been the recipients of the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) loans, and SBA COVID loans. 

(We have efforts such as) the American Rescue Plan and Inflation Reduction Act. I have the opportunity through appropriations to increase funding. There is an understanding that investing here is about driving the economy. That is where the jobs are. 

Q. What impact is the Investing in America initiative having locally?

Guzman: What we have seen so far is over $2 billion invested in local projects for rebuilding infrastructure, our roads, our bridges, our airports. And those are contracts for small businesses, who are then employing locally and spurring economic development locally. 

We see great opportunities on the horizon for the Investing in America agenda. We want to get out there and make sure our small businesses are aware of these investments and aware of the opportunities. 

It is an opportunity after the pandemic — when we reached more than 12 million businesses with loans helping to save millions of businesses — to make sure we are supporting them into the future as they grow. 

Q. What’s the SBA lending environment now given higher interest rates? 

Guzman: We continue to see strong demand for our programs. With the tightening credit marketplace and high interest rates, people want affordable capital. They want to refinance in some cases their loans with the SBA. 

We are the lender of last resort. We de-risk the marketplace to make sure that small businesses can get capital. That is more critical now than at any time because of the tightening credit environment.

Q. What impact has the Restaurant Revitalization Fund had here in Connecticut?

Guzman: You see it with G Cafe in New Haven, which has grown to five locations and is opening up at Tweed New Haven Airport. That is exciting. 

You hear it every day from small businesses that we have supported. They wouldn’t have survived without the SBA. 

The American Rescue Plan was an investment that took them through it all. They needed that extra support. To be able to receive that grant funding when revenues were down was important to keep (restaurants) alive. 

Q. How will the recent signing of the Strategic Alliance Memorandum with the International Trade & Forfaiting Association (ITFA) impact small businesses? 

Guzman: Small businesses who trade pay better, and they have stronger revenues. So, the SBA doubled down on trying to help businesses grow their revenues through federal contracting, through trade abroad, through e-commerce strategies. 

We support states with the STEP (State Trade and Export Promotion) grants program to get small businesses to trade abroad. These partnerships with local organizations as well as national organizations focused on trade, help small businesses realize opportunities abroad. 

Especially since the majority of consumers are global, we need to make sure small businesses can tap into that.

Q. What would you like to tell Connecticut’s small businesses?

Guzman: Small businesses who need assistance should reach out to us. We have incredible boots on the ground, local district offices, as well as small business development centers, women’s business centers, and veterans business outreach centers. 

All those services are critical towards really giving businesses the tools they need to be successful. Those who have wraparound services are more likely to succeed, and that’s what we want.

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