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Getting off the ground

For more about the U.S. Small Business Administration's loan programs, visit sba.gov.

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Jennifer Miller never thought she would get the loan she needed to start her business.

"I had no collateral," said Miller, owner of the Mission Savvy juice bar and café in downtown Charleston. "I had a car but I was still making payments on it."

After working on her business plan for more than a year, she went to the local U.S. Small Business Administration office and asked about a loan. To her delight, she secured a 10-year, $50,000 federal low-interest rate loan from BB&T.

Businesses like Miller's, which don't qualify for traditional lending from banks, are the reason for the SBA's lending program.

"Once we have that SBA enhancement on it [the loan], we can make it happen," said Stephanie Ellingson of Huntington Bank.

In the 2013 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, Huntington Bank awarded 77 SBA loans, totaling more than $20 million.

When combined with SBA loans from other banks, West Virginia small businesses got 183 loans for nearly $40 million in fiscal 2013 - an increase of nearly 12 percent over the previous year, according to SBA figures announced last week.

"These are loans that small businesses wouldn't have received if it wasn't for the SBA," said Judy McCauley, the SBA's West Virginia district director. "That is 183 small businesses either starting or expanding in West Virginia totaling the retention and creation of 2,289 jobs."

The SBA does not make the loan directly to businesses, but guarantees a large portion of the loan provided by community lenders like banks and credit unions. 

"We're competitors but it's all for the best of the state," Ellingson said. "The more we can support small business the more we can add jobs and help the state."

SBA officials say the loan program has played a major role in the country's economic recovery over the past few years.

"You'll remember that during the recession, banks became so risk averse that getting a small business loan was nearly impossible," said Nikki Bowmar, spokeswoman for the SBA's district office in West Virginia. "By SBA backing as much as 85 percent of these loans, lenders are more willing to lend capital that gets and keeps the engines of our economy running."

Nationwide, the SBA secured 54,106 loans for a total of $29.6 billion in fiscal 2013 - the third-highest annual loan total on record, surpassed only by the previous two years.

The SBA's most popular loan program is its 7(a) Loan Guarantee, under which the agency can guarantee up to 85 percent on loans up to $150,000 and up to 75 percent on all other loans, although the federal stimulus program and the Small Business Jobs Act temporarily allowed an increase of up to 90 percent, Bowmar said.

Miller is now relying on private investors to expand her business, because the production space for food and classes is too small. But she doesn't think Mission Savvy would have been a reality without the initial SBA loan.

"It's just nice that the access to funding was and is available and that you can use it to evolve in the way that you need to," she said. Reach Caitlin Cook at caitlin.cook@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5113.


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