Cassius Butts, the Region IV administrator with the U.S. Small Business Administration, has seen his share of startups succeed and fail. The difference, he says, often boils down to knowledge.
One of his primary goals, he said, is to make small-business owners more aware of SBA and its various resources. In the Q&A below, Butts talks about SBA-backed loans, which last fiscal year topped $4.54 billion in his Southeastern region, which includes Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.
Q How would you describe the small business climate in Charlotte?
A The business climate in Charlotte, I believe, has been one of our success spots. In North Carolina, we backed $556 million in our 7(a) loan program in fiscal year 2014. I’m very proud of that. We have a commitment to making certain that we are serving the underserved markets. About $227 million of that went to underserved markets.
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We also have a (nationwide) goal of making sure that 23 percent of all federal contracts go to minority- or women-owned companies. For the first time in eight years we surpassed our goal – 23.4 percent was the actual number. Region IV ranked among the top three performing regions in the country.
Q SBA also makes micro loans, correct?
A Yes, everybody doesn’t need a million dollars. You may need $100,000; you may need $50,000. In our microloan program, of the $5.4 million to $6 million we achieved in 2014, about $889,000 went to North Carolina businesses.
Q In the current lending environment, who’s getting approved for SBA loans?
A There are more people getting approved than you might think. The numbers speak for themselves. When you look to acquire an SBA loan, you can do it the right way, and the right way is coming in to us to have counseling first. … We want you to come to one of our resource partners so that we can guide you, walk with you, and so that you can have a mentor to work with you. That’s what I want your readers to understand, that they do not have to do it alone.
Q How do you measure the effectiveness of SBA-backed loans and contracting programs?
A We want to make sure our customers are still in business after five years. The way I measure it, and the way the agency measures it, is about having long-lasting relationships. If you get in financial challenges … you can come to us, you can talk to our small business development centers, our women’s business centers as well as our SCORE chapters and talk to them to make sure your business stays afloat.
Q What do you worry about?
A My concern is that more people don’t know about us. My concern is that more and more people will get caught up in the political context of what we do and why we exist. ... Ninety-eight percent of this economy is run off of small business. My concern is that more people don’t know that. ... Access to capital ... is what’s going to drive our economy.
Glenn Burkins is editor and publisher of Qcitymetro.com, an online news site targeting Charlotte’s African-American community. He is a former Wall Street Journal reporter and Charlotte Observer business editor.