By Cally Reed, UNI Center for Business Growth and Innovation
The U.S. Small Business Administration has been in the business of supporting small businesses since 1954. by providing access to capital, opportunity to contract with the government, and no-cost business counseling. With at least one SBA office in every state, they are uniquely positioned to provide these strategic services to grow the nation's economy on a grassroots level.
District Director of Iowa's U.S. Small Business Administration, Jayne Armstrong, was kind enough to sit down with me to tell about what they are doing to come alongside entrepreneurs and small business owners through the Iowa SBA.
How many SBA locations are in Iowa? Can you share a brief overview of the SBA resources available to entrepreneurs?
“We feel that the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) is the federal government’s best kept secret. Corporations such as Nike, Ben & Jerry’s, Constant Contact, Under Armour, Intel, Federal Express, and Cabela’s, among so many others, got their start as small business owners with SBA programs. Under SBA Administrator Linda McMahon’s leadership, the SBA is redefining itself by increasing its visibility and awareness across Iowa and the nation. Most people know us for our government-guaranteed loan programs through local lenders, but there is so much more to the SBA.
The SBA resource network in Iowa includes 15 Small Business Development Centers, 8 SCORE Chapters, a Women’s Business Center and a Veteran’s Business Outreach Center. We consider these resource partners the counseling and training arm of the SBA. We fund them to provide one-on-one counseling, assistance with market research, business plans, financial projections and so much more. We also offer training through SBA workshops, webinars and our online training center – www.sba.gov.
We also help small businesses build their capacity to compete in the federal contracting arena through our 8(a) business development and HUBZone contracting programs. While Capital, Counseling and Contracting are the three big C’s of the SBA, we also deliver and oversee programs such as exporting, the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR), Small Business Investment Corporation (SBIC), advocacy and disaster recovery. SBA’s footprint across Iowa includes our main office in Des Moines and a branch office in Cedar Rapids, but we are often on the road somewhere in Iowa’s 99 counties.”
The SBA's Small Business Week is fast approaching tell the story about what makes Small Business Week special. How can Iowa business owners and supporters help celebrate during that week?
“SBA’s National Small Business Week is truly a celebration of small business success and the American Dream. Small business is the heart and soul of the American economy, but it is often taken for granted. This is a special time for small business owners to take a step back and recognize their accomplishments as a result of their hard work, vision, perseverance and many sleepless nights. It is also an opportunity for SBA to honor America’s top 52 small business owners as true American heroes and sheroes at festivities in Washington, D.C. We are especially thrilled to showcase Iowa’s Small Business Person of the Year, Bob Simpson of Big River Packaging in Clinton, at the Iowa Smart Conference and a local event after he returns from Washington. I encourage every Iowan to take a moment and thank their local small business owners for their contributions to Iowa’s economy and then continue to support them year round through purchases.”
Are there any new or particularly exciting projects the SBA is spearheading (Small Business Week related or othewise) to support the success of Iowa entrepreneurs?
“The SBA is excited to launch its rebranding campaign, SBA Reimagined, during National Small Business Week. The new logo, new marketing materials and overall new look will encourage the small business community to take another look at the SBA and all it has to offer.
While the SBA targets a lot of small business markets, including manufacturers, retailers, franchises, underserved markets, rural, etc, we are especially proud of efforts to support vetrepreneurs and military spouses. We have greatly expanded our marketing and outreach efforts to veterans, National Guard, Reservists and their spouses in Iowa. Across the country the SBA and its resource partners are helping active duty military prepare for small business ownership through the Department of Defense’s Transition Assistance Programs and SBA’s Boots to Business classes. Since Iowa doesn’t have any military bases, we offer a variation called the Reboot to Business program. The program is condensed into a one-day workshop targeting veterans, National Guard, Reservists and spouses, rather than active duty personnel. Participants follow it up with a free eight or 10 week online executive education training course through Syracuse University or Mississippi State University.
The SBA and the Veterans Business Outreach Center, based in St. Louis, also offer a monthly webinar for veterans featuring a wide range of small business topics. We regularly collaborates with Iowa Economic Development Authority’s Targeted Small Business Program, Home Base Iowa, the National Guard, county veteran’s officers and federal and state agencies to identifies opportunities to support our veterans and military families.”
What advice would you give entrepreneurs as they look to the future? What sets Iowa apart for helping entrepreneurs build businesses?
“Too often people start small businesses without accessing key resources that are available to them (many already paid for with their tax dollars).They often regret that they didn’t know about them when they started the business. The more prepared a business owner is at the start-up phase, the more successful they will be down the road. Small business owners should take the time and do it the right way from the beginning by utilizing SCORE, America’s SBDC Iowa, SBA’s Women’s Business Center at the Iowa Center for Economic Success, the Veteran’s Business Resource Center and SBA’s Online Training Center at www.sba.gov. They also should take another look at SBA programs, especially our loan programs, and separate the myths from the facts. The SBA of 2018 is more streamlined than ever thanks to technology, but too often small business owners are confronted with misinformation about long processing times and a lot of paperwork. The more informed the business owner is about all the available programs and how they work, the more we can help them start, build and grow their businesses.
It is important for all levels of government, from federal to state to local, to break down economic development silos and work together to leverage our resources for Iowa small businesses. Iowa has a lot of resources for small business start-ups and expansions, but it is often very confusing for small business owners to understand who does what. The more we continue to expand our collaborative efforts, the more we can help Iowa’s small business community grow and expand itself.”