Small-Biz Loan Market Gets Tighter, Official Says

By Beacon Staff

BILLINGS – The new regional director of the Small Business Administration says small-business owners report banks are reining in credit in the wake of turmoil in the nation’s financial markets.

Russell Smith took over last week as director of the SBA’s Region 8. He says small businesses are getting squeezed, finding that lenders are retrenching on their lending practices.

“But we in the SBA are absolutely here to help small businesses,” Smith said. “We’re active in working with lenders to make loans available to creditworthy businesses. We’ve been active on a number of fronts to make that happen.”

Smith says the SBA is active in working with lenders to make loans available to creditworthy businesses.

Smith visited lenders in South Dakota and Wyoming last week, his first on the job.

He plans to meet with lenders in Helena this coming week.

Statistics from the SBA indicate that lending actually is on the increase in Montana. As the federal fiscal year comes to a close Sept. 30, SBA lending in Montana has topped $78 million, up from $76 million the previous year, Smith said.

Most loans are in the SBA’s 504 program, which is used to purchase buildings, land and other large fixed assets.

“That’s an indication that folks are expanding their businesses, trying to get out of leased locations and into their own buildings. It means something is happening in Montana,” said Smith, who is based in Denver.

The SBA’s Region VIII includes Montana, Colorado, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming.

So far, Region VIII hasn’t experienced the kind of economic slowdown that has surfaced in other regions, Smith said.

“We’re still seeing high-quality projects to loan money to,” he said.

Smith joined the SBA last year as senior adviser in the Office of Capital Access and as the deputy director for the Office of Communications and Public Liaison. He takes over in Region VIII from Milton “Mick” Ringsak, who retired earlier this year.