Small Business Administration launches community navigators

The regional administrator of the Small Business Administration has spent the past two days in North Texas meeting with Chambers of Commerce and city leaders about issues facing small businesses and options currently available for those struggling. South Central Regional Administrator Ted James says the visit aimed to increase awareness about the Community Navigator Pilot Program.

The pilot program offers funding to local and state governments, non-profits, and other organizations to provide financial assistance, marketing, and industry-specific training for small businesses.

The program targets communities considered underserved. On Thursday, Ted James met with city leaders from Balch Springs, Cedar Hill, DeSoto, Duncanville, Glenn Heights, Hutchins, Lancaster, Ovila, and Wilmer.

“We have been trying to be a lot more aggressive. A lot of small businesses don’t know the good things happening at the SBA,” James said. “Our community navigators are a brand new initiative by way of the American Rescue Plan, working in communities of interest making sure the small business ecosystem recognizes the SBA is here.”

James answered questions about interest rates and efforts to increase awareness about SBA loan programs available for underserved markets.

“There’s a ‘South of 30’ in every community. We’ve just got to do a better job of pushing it,” James said. “What we’ve done with the ‘Community Advantage Program’, the changes made there are specific to the ‘South of 30s,’ the disadvantaged businesses.”

“As leaders, it’s incumbent upon us to make sure our small business owners are equipped with everything they need so they can be successful,” said Glenn Heights Mayor Pro Tem Sonja Brown.

Brown said educational and financial literacy aspects are keys for small businesses to be successful. She credited the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law with opening up federal contracting opportunities for small businesses owned by minorities, disadvantaged people, and service-disabled veterans.

“It just opens up the playing field,” Brown said. “The smaller businesses who haven’t done business with the government previously, it gives them that opportunity.”

James also took questions about the role inflation may play in small business development.

“A lot of people forget, even if you own a small business, you still might be living check-to-check,” said DeSoto Mayor Pro Tem Andre Byrd. “When the cost of goods goes up, that affects your bottom line.”

Byrd said small businesses are also still struggling with a shortage of workers.

“We are in the middle of an employment crisis, as well,” Byrd said. “We are paying more for the same workforce and the same labor that, maybe, three or four years ago, we didn’t have to pay that. It wasn’t as competitive. They can’t make up that difference and not pass it on to the consumer.”

Barry Gordon, mayor of Duncanville, said the city’s economic development corporation has set up a loan program providing grants for small business growth. The city held a forum last week for minority and women-owned businesses.

“We’re a lot of small entrepreneurs. They’re the ones doing great,” Gordon said. “Those municipalities, those small businesses are where we need to focus. We in this room are focused on our small businesses.”

James, the SBA administrator, said the agency is working to fill an “information void” so local governments, non-profits and other organizations know what services are available.

“We’ve been in tough times before,” James said. “One of the things I would tell small businesses: as you’re out there and ready to scale up or expand even in these tough times, the SBA products, because they have the guarantee of the federal government, are probably the best way for you to go.”

James said the SBA also hosted a roundtable for lenders to address issues dealing with investment in southern Dallas County.

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