Approximately 30 small business owners looking for answers and insights into how to navigate regulations, secure loans and improve their bottom lines were given the opportunity to quiz the U.S Small Business appointee to the western region Oct. 28 in Marina del Rey.
Elizabeth Echols, the administrator to Region IX, which includes Los Angeles, gave a brief presentation to the budding and current entrepreneurs at Shanghai Red’s in the Marina and later took questions on a variety of topics, including facets of President Barack Obama’s proposed jobs bill.
Echols came to the town hall at the request of state Assemblywoman Betsy Butler (D-Marina del Rey) who knew the small business administrator from their days working in former President Bill Clinton’s administration nearly 20 years ago.
“We all know that small business is the engine of this country, and of course that is especially true here in Southern California,” Butler said in her opening remarks.
Echols began by discussing President Obama’s American Jobs Act and highlighted the payroll tax cuts for business owners.
“In the past we’ve done them for employees but this time it’s significant because it’s for the employers,” she said.
She also touched on how important it was to stimulate the construction and trades industry, one of the hardest hit by the recession.
Echols talked about the necessity for some merchants and entrepreneurs to be able to tap into opportunities with government at all levels. “Getting access to government contracting can be a great resource,” she said.
That is one of local resident Agnes Huff’s concerns. The owner of Huff Communications in Westchester said she would like to see transactions and interactions with government agencies made simpler for small businesses.
“Contracting opportunities with the local and federal government is a very complex process,” Huff said. “It would be a lot better if that process could be streamlined.”
The Small Business Administration is also exploring new ways to stimulate lending to small business, a frequent complaint among many entrepreneurs.
Echols said making a sound presentation when soliciting a loan to expand or create a business venture is something that some budding entrepreneurs take for granted.
“It’s really important to be very prepared when they go in to us for a loan and that’s why I encourage them to visit any of our counselors who can give them support,” she recommended. “That way, when they go in to get the loan, they’ll know exactly how to present themselves.”
Detailed information on how much to ask for, when the loan will be repaid and what it is for will go a long way in convincing a banker to part with start-up capital or to expand a business, Echols said. “You really want to be very clear and precise in order to make your case a persuasive one,” the administrator said.
Echols thinks there can be at times a small disconnect between those who run small businesses and the programs that her agency offers, due to the fact that some do not realize how the agency can benefit their long term success.
“I think there is a gap between some of our more innovative entrepreneurs and what we can offer them, but it’s not that we don’t want to help them,” she said. “For a lot of entrepreneurs in California that are just starting out, I don’t think they immediately think, ‘Small Business Administration.’ Often they think venture capital or something else.
“I think it’s important for them to know what we can offer,” she continued. “If we have the chance to explain it to them in (forums) like this, they really get that the SBA can really help them.”
After the town hall, Butler was asked about how a legislator must navigate between easing regulations to stimulate commerce while guarding against business abuses and protecting public safety as well as the environment.
“(Gov. Jerry Brown) as well as state Senate Speaker Pro Tem (Darrel Steinberg) are very focused on streamlining and looking at regulations to see what’s old, what’s redundant, what needs to change,” the assemblywoman told The Argonaut. “They’ve put a lot of time and effort into that and it is a definitive priority.”
Butler, who has the backing of several local and regional environmental organizations, said she has considered taking a look at streamlining the California Environmental Quality Act, a landmark state statute that was enacted in 1970.
“I’m a big supporter of CEQA. (The environment) is a very precious commodity that we have here in California. We don’t want to pollute it; we want to take care of it,” the assemblywoman said. “CEQA, though, needs to be looked at.”
Butler told the audience that she was a co-sponsor of a bill that will expedite legal challenges to the environmental review process for the downtown Civic Center extension and football stadium to be built by developer Anshutz Entertainment Group.
“CEQA’s great, and I don’t want it to be diminished,” the assemblywoman reiterated. “But at the same time, if it’s preventing people from being able to move along in the building process, in a safe fashion, that’s a problem.”
Huff also mentioned loan acquisition as another area where the government can assist business owners like her.
“More reasonable lending programs to be able to develop and hire without additional hurdles would be very helpful,” she said. “Also, the insurance requirements are so robust to protect government agencies that many small businesses can be eliminated (from competing with larger firms) due to the costs.”
LAX Coastal Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Christina Davis agreed with Echols that small business owners and start-up businesses do not always realize the extent to which Echols’ agency can assist them.
“Unfortunately, they’re not always aware of how different each business can be and a plan for one business may not work for another,” she said.
Davis said Butler has spoken to her organization and has offered her legislative support. “She seemed incredibly accessible and receptive to our business owners,” the chamber president said.
Echols, who once worked in Silicon Valley, said the economic landscape is beginning to show promise in California.
“There was a report recently that California is apparently leading the country in job creation,” she noted. “I think that the innovation in green jobs and the growth in new technology has contributed to that.”
Butler feels that the ingenuity and innovation in California – with a little help from the government – will soon make the state’s economy vibrant again.
“I think there’s no question about that,” the assemblywoman said. “Creativity in the 21st century is going to be very important, and here, the creativity is boundless.”
To contact the SBA Los Angeles office, (818) 552-3201, or www.sba.gov.