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SBA administrator Guzman, Axne participate in tour and roundtable with small business owners


U.S. Small Business Administration Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman and U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne heard from small business owners Monday about the challenges they are facing as they continue to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Guzman and Axne spent the day in the Des Moines metro area, where they toured four West Des Moines businesses (Fox Brewing, MoMere, St. Kilda Collective and El Fogon Mexican Grill) in the morning before holding a roundtable with small business owners at the Greater Des Moines Partnership in the afternoon.

After the event, the Business Record sat down with the SBA administrator and congresswoman to discuss small business recovery, what help is available, and the future of the Biden administration’s Build Back Better Plan, and to get their takeaways from their meetings earlier in the day.

What did you learn today about the challenges small businesses in Central Iowa are facing?
Guzman: Underlying all is just the impact from the pandemic and the changing consumer behavior as a result, which has impacted their revenue. Many of them are still trying to recover their revenue, still facing challenges of trying to fill their houses, whether it’s a restaurant, or venue we visited, or any business trying to navigate the marketplace today.

What help is currently available to small businesses that are continuing to recover from the pandemic?
Guzman: The main COVID relief programs have come to a close. Now SBA is positioning its core lending programs, which we distribute through a network across the country, as well as our technical assistance network, our small business centers, including our newly launched community navigators through the American Rescue Plan that are on the ground working with small businesses to help them pivot and adapt during this time, and connect them to our capital products. As Congresswoman Axne and I heard today, many small businesses may have had that banking relationship to get them off and running to access relief, but some of them had challenges understanding some of the programs or feel that it wasn’t for them, so we need to continuously do a better job of connecting them.

What more can be done to help small businesses today?
Axne: There is still some money available and we need to continue to help … those still-struggling industries and make it very focused on those particular industries that are having the hardest time. Secondly, we need to look at the future. As we move forward with expending the rest of the available COVID relief funding the SBA has, we just need to look at policies that are going to look at businesses in general. It was good to listen to the administrator talk about the changes she and her team have made in the SBA that address microbusinesses, which is a large growth of the small businesses in this country. They are looking to address minority issues by putting people in place to serve minority businesses. We in Congress are looking for ways we can advance minority businesses and opportunities for them. Access to credit is a huge issue. We have to make sure we take biases out of the system that have left some people behind and not able to access capital. We can’t just look at the money that is needed to get in the hands of folks because that is a short-term fix. We have to look at a lot of other things. Once we get through COVID we have to continue to level the playing field so minority businesses can have a level playing field.

What can be done to address the workforce shortage that is challenging businesses nationwide?
Guzman: First and foremost, we need to continue to fight the pandemic and use the tools at hand, like vaccinations and testing, and try to keep our workforce healthy. We did meet with businesses today that have current cases that limited their number of workers. Beyond that, just making sure small businesses connect with workforce strategies. Some of them are having to change their pay scale modeling. We want to make sure we can connect them to local workforce development resources to help support them.

Axne: There’s a lot of other things families look at in addition to pay. Things like health care, which we’re continuing to work on, but there’s still so many Iowans left behind with the health care system. It’s hard to step up and decide you’re going to put all your blood, sweat and tears into building a business when you don’t know if you’re going to have money to cover your family’s food, let alone ensure that if a health care situation happens your child is going to be safe. We need more support for health care. We need more support for student loan relief. We need to look at those types of things. There are people who want to contribute to our community’s economic viability by stepping up and becoming an entrepreneur and developing jobs. We should really put those structural pieces in place to help them.

What is the future of Build Back Better? What needs to be done to build broader support?
Axne: We’re going to have to break the bill up and put it into chunks that the American people want to see. We could look at how do we help working families? Certainly the child care piece. The 3- and 4-year-old universal pre-K. The child tax credit. The cost of health care. We’re looking to negotiate the cost of some of the most expensive prescription drugs out there. That’s putting money in people’s pockets. We also have provisions in there to train more teachers and help our education system and address mental health. So what I see is the working families package of it. Let’s pull these pieces out that help the working families, and I think we could get enough support across the aisle from everybody for things like that. The bill is good but there are plenty of things that are going to have to be left behind and we’re going to have to think about where we’re going to have the biggest impact. I think doing things like that, that appease both sides of the aisle, would be the way to go about doing that.

How do you respond to small businesses concerned about delays in COVID Economic Disaster Recovery Loan Program applications for refinancing of loans?
Guzman: It’s still being processed. It closed Dec. 31 and businesses were able to apply for reconsideration if they didn’t receive funding or apply for an expansion because we increased it from $150,000 to $2 million in relief funds available, so many businesses were applying for that expansion of credit. [Last] summer … we were able to revamp that program, changing processes and simplifying it to get it in the hands of more businesses. So we’re really pleased with how much we’ve been able to process and get out the door, but there are still remaining applicants that have particular challenges and we’re trying to work through their particular issues to make sure that, if they are eligible, they can get the funding that they need.

Click on each image below to watch a short video from U.S. Small Business Administration Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman and U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne.


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