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New director Folsom one in a series of changes for SBA


Joe Folsom leads his staff at the Des Moines district office of the Small Business Administration much as he once led a group of Boy Scouts. He sets guidelines and lets them run with their strategy, listening and advising as needed. Folsom, who has worked for years on issues related to economic development, says he has derived his leadership style partly from being a Scout leader while his children were growing up.

“A good Scout leader with the Boy Scout program is there to guide, and there’s a whole set of values and principles there that are transferable,” Folsom said. “One of the most important things you learn as a Scout leader is that you let the kids lead. It basically pulled me to change my approach overall so that I can let my staff do their jobs without having to be involved in all the details of micromanaging.”

Folsom became director of the SBA’s Des Moines district office in late May after spending 27 years in Minnesota with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. His most recent role with the USDA was as a community and cooperative development program director, specializing in the development of rural communities and cooperative business planning. His business marketing and rural-based economic knowledge, paired with his M.B.A., prepared him for his current post at the SBA, he said.

“It really all came together with getting this type of job that I have here – putting the community and economic development financial background together with my training in business,” Folsom said. “Thanks to my background and the staff here, the transition has been a fairly smooth one.”

Folsom said he was attracted to the position with the SBA not only because it seemed like a “good challenge to take on,” but also because he felt it would allow him to do more of what he most enjoyed in his previous jobs, which was bringing people closer to their goals.

“What I really enjoyed about the work that I did in rural development was helping people solve problems and realize their dreams,” Folsom said. “And since I’ve been here, what I’ve found most exciting has been developing the relationships and the network and being able to bring the resources and tools together that allow people to realize their goals and ambitions.”

As far as Folsom’s goals are concerned, there are many, including ones related to consolidation of Iowa’s two SBA’s offices, something that had already happened before he arrived, and which continues to have a substantial effect on how the agency operates in the state. About a year ago, Folsom said, the Eastern Iowa district office in Cedar Rapids became a branch of the Des Moines office, making the Des Moines office in charge of the entire state.

“This past year has been a significant year of transition for Des Moines and Cedar Rapids with the centralization of SBA’s processes and servicing,” Folsom said. “Despite all of that change, we’re heading toward what we see as a very successful year.”

Folsom said the SBA has already met some of its fiscal-year goals, and has also increased its 7(a) and 504 loan volumes from last year.

“Our loan volume is up quite significantly,” he said. “Last year, the districts did 553 7(a) loans. This year, as of last week, thanks to our partners and lenders, we had 675 loans, and weeks to go yet in our fiscal quarter. From that perspective, it’s been going really well.”

An area Folsom said he is passionate about is initiating improvements in how the SBA reaches out to groups of people and communities that may not be aware of its services.

“One of the areas where we can focus our efforts on is reaching out to the underserved. Whether they be rural, minority, ethnic or economically disadvantaged, we need to make sure that we’re not leaving anybody out,” Folsom said. “To achieve this, we’re going to have to get out and reach into the groups and organizations to develop relationships and strengthen the ones we already have.”

As with any of the agency’s goals, Folsom’s view is that success will be achieved by having the staff work under broad guidelines and taking ownership of their projects.

“Hopefully, what I can do is develop passion in the work that they do,” he said. “I want the staff to get excited about what they do so that they can go out there and achieve the goals in the way they see best.”

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