For Business’ Sake
For the first time in more than a decade, Hawaii gets a visit by the head of the SBA
2004 was a banner year for the Hawaii District Office of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). The office broke its previous record for government-backed loans to small businesses, ending fiscal year 2004 with a loan volume of $63.6 million. The Hawaii office was also awarded the second-highest record of achievement, based on overall performance, out of 68 district offices nationwide. And, for the first time in more than 12 years, Hawaii received a visit by the current administrator of the U.S. SBA, Hector Barreto.
Nominated by President George W. Bush, Barreto took office in 2001 and, since then, the number of SBA-guaranteed loans nationwide has doubled. Barreto says it was a team effort, but “there’s no doubt the department has become more competitive and is much easier to work with now.” Hawaii Business caught up with Barreto during his visit last December.
Why do you suppose the Hawaii office did so well this year?
We’ve been evaluating the production of the offices across the country and, really, we had star performers in every part. Some of that has to do with the rebounding economy. Some of that has to do with the changes we’ve made to our programs and the way we distribute our services. Some of it’s the leadership at the local offices. In Hawaii’s case, we have a combination of all three. So when we ranked all of the offices, Hawaii came in No. 2. They were very close to No. 1, but another small district in Texas nudged them out at the very end.
Do you see any small-business trends that are unique to Hawaii?
There’s a tremendous interest and opportunity for more government contracting. Hawaii’s companies do a very good job of going out and marketing themselves to the government, and a lot of that has to do with the high number of defense contracts here. I think that’s a trend that’s particular to Hawaii, and we want to continue to grow that opportunity. International trade could be another good area for Hawaii – exporting products and services to other parts of the world, especially Asian countries.
What new SBA programs are in the works that might benefit Hawaii’s small businesses?
We implemented a new program a couple years ago called “Business Matchmaking,” where we’re introducing the small businesses directly to the buyers. In the last two years, for the first time in history, the SBA has set up 25,000 one-on-one appointments between small businesses and the buyers of every federal agency and many Fortune 500 companies. Before, if small businesses wanted to meet a buyer from the federal government, they’d have to get on a plane and go to Washington, D.C., and it was like finding a needle in a haystack. We’ve taken the buyers out of Washington, D.C., to where those small businesses are, because small businesses have the know-how, they don’t have the know-who. We’ve done matchmaking events, and can track about $25-million worth of contracts that small businesses have gotten by attending. I’m sure some small businesses have probably participated from Hawaii, but, regardless, each one of the districts has to do mini-versions of these events locally. In addition, by the end of this year, we’ll be piloting “Virtual Matchmaking,” where the small businesses can meet the buyers online or on the telephone.
What affect do you think President Bush’s agenda will have on small businesses?
There are the five main categories of the president’s small-business agenda: tax simplification, regulatory relief, access to affordable health care, elimination of frivolous lawsuits and opening up new markets. I think all of those things will affect small businesses in a favorable way. In particular, opening up new international markets can especially help small businesses in Hawaii. The president is also working on unbundling contracts at the federal level – taking these big contracts and breaking them up into little pieces. That could especially help small businesses in Hawaii, because oftentimes they are subcontractors, but the way for them to get good experience and be able to get bigger contracts is to get experience as the prime contractor.