By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly
U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) Office of International Trade Associate Administrator Gabriel Esparza, along with SBA Regional Administrator Michael Fong, visited business leaders in the Northwest on April 18 and 19 to discuss export opportunities for small businesses.
The engagement with state leaders is a part of an effort to get out the message that the SBA is here to aid small businesses grow and expand.
“The SBA is your partner, it’s your SBA,” stated Esparza in a recent interview with the Northwest Asian Weekly. A part of this includes serving as a communicator with government stakeholders about small business concerns, such as supply chain issues and the need for more work force.
Esparza and Fong met with business leaders in Snohomish County on April 18 and then held an afternoon meeting with Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell and his office. In addition, they met with former Governor, Commerce Secretary, and Ambassador Gary Locke. In hopes of facilitating more trade, the meetings highlighted the opportunities that the SBA could provide for small businesses. They also listened to small business owners and talked about their experiences exporting.
The visit to Snohomish County promoted the continued use of the Port of Everett. In 2021, it broke ground on a major expansion of Norton Terminal that will modernize the ability to move goods to market. In addition, there are a wealth of aerospace and advanced manufacturing companies in Snohomish County that represent a great number of export-related jobs. Also, Paine Field is an important economic driver as an airport, as it accounts for $60 billion in economic impact and over 158,000 jobs, according to a Washington Aviation Economic Impact study.
Furthermore, the trend toward economic vitality is positive with a reversal of 5 years of export decline ending with exports up over $7.3 billion in 2021.
Esparza and Fong acknowledged the challenges that small business owners may have at this particular time.
“We recognize the supply chain and shipping challenges,” said Fong. “The backlog will alleviate over time.” He added, “It’s an opportunity for us (SBA). The tools are there, it’s just a matter of getting the folks to use them.”
After his visit to Seattle, Esparza traveled to Los Angeles to present an award to Dr. Dennis Lam, CEO and Chairman of GBC Bank. Lam was chosen as one of the Export Lenders of the Year.
The award recognizes the bank’s efforts to increase access to capital for U.S. companies by providing international trade financing to small businesses. The award highlights the accomplishments of lenders in delivering SBA’s international finance programs to small businesses, which help them develop new markets, finance export transactions, and expand capacity to meet overseas demand.
“We try to be the connective tissue between an interested small business and lending institution,” Esparza said of the agency’s work to get financing for small businesses. He indicated that GBC Bank, headquartered in Los Angeles, has been a key lender for many Asian small businesses in the area. The SBA met with lending institutions as part of its trip to the Northwest earlier this month. Esparza explained that the SBA serves as a ‘backstop’ to financial partners as it guarantees loans of many small businesses.
The SBA offers a variety of loans in its ‘loan toolbox’ including traditional loans and inject capital into microlenders. Each of the SBA loan programs come with its own rules, but some of the loans offer lower interest rates and fees, as well as shorter turnaround times for lines of credit.
In addition, trade with China is a continued concern amid issues with tariffs and slowdowns due to COVID-19 restrictions. The SBA is there to help in amplifying the stories it hears from small business owners around the country as it communicates them to government policy makers.
While the term “small business” can be interpreted in many ways, Esparza highlights that out of 32 million small businesses across the nation, 80% are sole proprietors. He notes that there are “accidental exporters,” small businesses that begin to sell goods or services outside of the U.S. by happenstance.
“In addition to the dynamic of accidental exporters, we also believe that diaspora communities are a particular area of focus,” said Esparza. Specifically, Asian diaspora communities are an area of interest that the SBA would like to engage.
The message for small businesses is that after the concerns over the pandemic, trade is picking up and the SBA can help.
“Folks are definitely moving out of survival mode and thinking of longer-term opportunities for expansion and revenue growth,” explained Fong of the status of small business in the current economic climate.
Jason can be reached at [email protected]