BY JOE MARVILLI
A Congressional field hearing took place at Queens College this week, looking into the Small Business Administration’s subpar efforts to reach out to local businesses.
The New York members of the House Small Business Subcommittee on Contracting and Workforce met in Rosenthal Library’s auditorium on March 11 to look at why small businesses have struggled to take advantage of federal programs available for them to use. U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing) joined the subcommittee’s chairman, U.S. Rep. Richard Hanna (R-Utica), and U.S. Reps. Yvette Clarke (D-Brooklyn) and Nydia Velazquez (D-Brooklyn) for the hearing.
“While the SBA does many things well, there have been concerns about how well its programs are tailored to underserved communities,” Meng said in her opening statement.
Witnesses that testified before the panel included Joyce Moy, executive director of the Asian American/Asian Research Institute at Queens College; Bill Imada, chairman and CEO of the California-based IW Group, and William Wilkins, director of economic development for the Local Development Corporation of East New York. Michele Chang, the SBA’s acting chief of staff, faced the majority of the questions about the SBA’s policies and outreach.
Moy’s testimony focused on the needs of underserved and immigrant communities. She said that while the SBA does try to assist these types of businesses, a lack of resources often prevents it from getting past language or cultural barriers. Moy said the SBA needs culturally and linguistically appropriate service providers as well as uniform training for all technical assistance providers.
Chang defended the agency’s outreach efforts, stating that SBA-guaranteed loans are three to five times more likely than conventional loans to go to minority and woman business owners. She added the SBA is working to fill market gaps for underserved communities with microloans and smaller dollar loans. The agency also reduced fees to zero for borrowers and lenders for all 7(a) loans that are $150,000 and less.
“While we are proud of all that SBA has accomplished alongside this Committee, we must continue to be diligent in our work to support underserved entrepreneurs,” Chang said.
Meng asked Chang about the agency’s Small Business Development Centers in Queens. There are only two in the Borough, in Jamaica and Long Island City. The Congresswoman wanted to know if the stations were properly equipped. While Chang said the sites were heavily utilized and the SBA is looking into extensions for the sites, Imada felt another center with different hours was needed. The two sites are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., making them less than ideal for business owners. Chang responded that the SBA is offering more services online.
When asked what they would most like to see from the SBA in the future, Wilkins said it should look at “more creative credit solutions” to help businesses get credit in their early years. Moy mentioned that a small fund that businesses can draw from to build credit would be helpful. Imada said successful businesses should come back and mentor new companies.
Reach Joe Marvilli at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 125, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @Joey788.