Obama fails small businesses

November 12, 2009

georgecloutier1 George A. Cloutier, a graduate of Harvard Business School, is the founder and CEO of American Management Services, one of the nation’s largest turnaround and management services firms specializing in small and mid-size companies. The opinions of George Cloutier are his own and do not represent those of the United States Conference of Mayors or Partner America. –

President Obama gets an “F” for his small business program. The SBA has guaranteed a paltry 50,000 loans  to the nation’s 29 million small businesses – that’s .0017. Loan volume is down 36 percent from 2008 and 50 percent from 2007. Obama and his advisers have actually done the unimaginable; they have reduced the flow of aid to small businesses in the face of a deep recession. The program’s bank lenders have left $15 billion on the table due to “regulatory problems.” Even an administration plan to provide lending to 70,000 vehicle dealers has no takers and failed.

Administration “experts” allocated less than 1 percent of the stimulus bill to small business. It’s mind-boggling that Washington ignores the biggest economic sector in the country employing 60 million people, producing 50 percent of GDP, and creating 70 percent of new jobs.

In the past several weeks, I have had the honor to lead events for small businesses in 15 cities (including Philadelphia,  Kansas City, Missouri and Baton Rouge, Louisiana) directly engaging with 2500 small business owners (employers only). Ninety-five percent of these business owners feel the administration’s stimulus plan and program has badly mistreated small businesses compared to Wall Street and Detroit.

On October 21st, President Obama announced a second stimulus for small business. His new plan must have been a political speech since it lacked specifics as to how many businesses would be helped, how much money would be allocated and distributed, and when the money would actually start flowing.

Recently, the House passed a bill that purports to offer $40 billion to small businesses. The banks, having left billions of dollars on the table, astoundingly were selected again as the prime source of lending.

The bill mentions authorizing the SBA as a lender of “last resort” if certain loans are not funded by the banks, with a complicated process yet to be determined. No amount of authorization is mentioned and the process to achieve “last resort” status has no definition or timeframe. Much of the lending purported in the $40 billion will be achieved by raising the limit on certain types of loans; this way more money can be loaned to fewer businesses providing political cover for Congress and the president.

Here’s a program the president should mandate.

Create a $50 billion pool for direct loans. Mandate that it should be working within 60 days. Make sure everyone understands that you need to go down the “risk curve” just as the administration did for Wall Street and Detroit.

Select a George Patton-like leader to organize a 24-7 program starting now.

Let’s move small business from the “kid’s table” to the Cabinet. Create a full Cabinet post for small business and entrepreneurship.

Let’s get some real accountability on the success of these programs into the public domain. Your administration should publish a weekly report with the number of loans made, the banks providing the loans, the amounts of those loans and where the banks are located. It’s time to hold the bureaucrats’ feet to the fire.

Energize the SBA’s current outreach and guarantee program. The SBA Administrator should be on the road 5 days a week promoting the “Get-A-Loan” program across the country with the SBA’s public relations operatives to promote it. SBA employee and office hours should be reconfigured to include after hours and Saturday hours when small business owner have the time to apply and discuss lending. Make sure the participating banks are present. Telemarketing centers should be set up to contact small businesses directly to discuss new lending programs since most are simply not aware. A large number of SBA employees should be put on cold calling programs to introduce lending programs to small businesses. Have “Get-A-Loan” days twice a week with open houses. Forget direct mail, fancy brochures, and ill-attended conferences that usually write only a few loans if that. Forget websites directed toward emergency preparedness and focus on more immediate loan priorities.  Make sure that calls looking for help do not disappear into voicemail hell.

On October 10, 2008, you stated, “Main Street needs relief and you need it now.” It’s time to stop sending breadcrumbs and deliver the beef.

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