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Monday, November 17, 2014

MaryBeth Matzek: SBA lending up again in Wisconsin; state leads nation in small-loan program

By MaryBeth Matzek
Wisconsin small business owners and entrepreneurs are taking full advantage of funding opportunities through the U.S. Small Business Association. For the second year in a row, Wisconsin led the nation in the number of loans made through the organization's 7(a) Small Loan Program, which provides financial help to small businesses.

For fiscal 2014, the SBA made 384 loans of $350,000 and under for a total of $58.7 million. State lenders also made more SBA loans to start-ups from 501 in fiscal 2013 to 534 in fiscal 2014. That translates to nearly one-third of loans issued going to entrepreneurs.

Another big win in fiscal 2014 were loans less than $150,000. The SBA eliminated fees for loans under $150,000 and the amount of loans in that category grew 30 percent in 2014 with 951 loans issued.

Clearly, lenders are loosening the purse strings that were pulled so tight following the 2008 financial meltdown. Many lenders work closely with the SBA to get funds to borrowers. Financial institutions working with the SBA are able recover a part of their investment if the business owner defaults.

Shanna Graykowski, vice president for commercial banking at U.S. Bank in Green Bay, says lenders work with borrowers on what programs – such as an SBA loan or maybe a microloan through an economic development organization – is the best bet for their business.

"Borrowers are able to collaborate with our experts on what program is the best fit to meet the goals of the business owner," she says. "As a leader in SBA lending, one of our strengths is experience. We are able to manage the process and set appropriate expectations so the business owner can continue to focus on what they do best: run their business."

But Graykowsky says funding is only one piece to a business' success. She says it's important for entrepreneurs to have a business plan in place and a team of professionals, such as an attorney and an accountant, they can turn to. Non-profit organizations that support businesses such as SCORE and the Small Business Development Centers found on several University of Wisconsin campuses in Wisconsin are also key.

"Beyond simply working with business to find appropriate alternatives and additional resources, we take the time to work with the business owner to develop a road map for success," Graykowsky says. "This allows the business to see how, in time, their efforts will open new doors for financing alternatives and set targets for the future."

While financial institutions are saying "yes" more frequently to business borrowers, Nate Kok, vice president of Hometown Bank in Fond du Lac, says it's still important entrepreneurs are properly prepared when meeting with lenders and have their own financial house in order.

"It's also important that they are financially sound personally; the best indicator of how a company will handle its business affairs is how well the individual business owner has managed his or her personal credit in the past," he says.

Well approval

Since Administrative Judge Jeffrey Boldt ruled in September the Department of Natural Resources must take into account "cumulative impacts" when approving high-capacity wells, the state approved 43 of them. While some are for farming operations, also included in the mix are a high-capacity well in Portage County for snowmaking and one for a proposed golf course in Adams County. No requests were denied although one request was withdrawn, says Eric Ebersberger, water use section chief for the Wisconsin DNR.

The DNR hasn't commented on the ruling and how it may affect its process. In the meantime, business owners, farmers and municipalities seeking approval for high-capacity wells continue to move ahead.

Export increase

Mention "exports" and manufacturing products usually jump to mind. But the state of Wisconsin ranks 12th in the nation when it comes to agricultural exports. So far in 2014, state farms and agribusinesses exported $2.8 billion worth of products to 138 countries – an increase of 17 percent for the same period in 2013.

Dairy products led the way with demand up 19 percent. China's demand for Wisconsin dairy products grew a whopping 70 percent. Wisconsin ranks third nationally in dairy exports.

-- Matzek, a freelance writer and editor, is the owner of 1Bizzy Writer. She has worked in the past as a news editor at Insight Publications and as business editor at the Appleton Post-Crescent.


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