Michelle Christian has hit the ground running as the new regional administrator for the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Mid-Atlantic office, which serves Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, Washington, D.C., Maryland and Delaware.
One month on the job and she’s busy meeting stakeholders and getting the word out about some of the lesser-known services offered by the SBA.
“Everybody thinks that we’re just about loans,” said Christian, whose office is in King of Prussia. “But the SBA has a wide range of programs – all free – to help business continue to grow.”
Christian would know a thing or two about the needs of a small business. Prior to taking on the role of regional SBA administrator, she was running her law practice in Newtown.
“I definitely understand the feeling of being a small-business person,” she said. “Luckily, right now the economy is booming.”
Christian said the recent federal tax break has been a big benefit to small businesses as well as large ones, and owners she talks to say they’re using those funds to invest back in the business or hire new employees.
But even with a strong economy and extra funds, there are challenges.
One is workforce development.
Rather than concentrating on everyone obtaining college degrees, the SBA wants to work with other business development partners to help people gain the right skills training for their aptitude and for available jobs, Christian said.
Christian said SBA loans are only one part of how it helps start and grow businesses.
She said in working with partners such as SCORE and other agencies, the SBA provides free counseling on issues from crafting a business plan to disaster preparedness.
“That’s something you don’t think about,” she said. “What’s going to happen if there’s a disaster?”
She cited the recent tornado that hit the Pittsburgh area.
“You have individuals and businesses that were not ready for it and were shut down,” she said.
Of course, low interest loans always are available through SBA for businesses, nonprofits and individuals to help recover from disaster and return to work.
Because the SBA can help in such situations, she has placed promotion of disaster assistance at the top of her list of priorities so that businesses know they have a place to go to prepare and recover.
Promoting woman business ownership also is a priority.
Christian said while women face many of the same challenges that men do in starting a business, programming exists to help women overcome some of the hurdles and to encourage them to choose self-employment.
HELPING RURAL BUSINESSES
Assisting rural communities also is close to the heart of Christian, who is from Bucks County.
“You can be in Allentown and then just drive out a little bit and you’re in an entirely different [rural] demographic,” she said.
While urban redevelopment often makes the headlines, she said, there are needs for entrepreneurs trying to start businesses in rural areas and her administration can help.
Christian encourages business owners and those considering starting a business to contact an SBA office to see what services might help.
“The counseling can be for starting a new business to the direction to grow it in,” she said. “Maybe the guidance is even you shouldn’t go into that business, or maybe you’re not looking in the best area.”
Whatever the advice, getting help – free help – with establishing a business plan may be the best investment a business owner makes, she said.
Regional administrator Michelle Christian has listed three areas as her top priorities as she enters her second month on the job with the Small Business Administration.
WOMAN-OWNED SMALL BUSINESSES:
- Own 9.9 million companies in the U.S.
- Employ more than 8 million people.
- Provide $264 billion in wages.
- Account for $1.4 trillion in sales.
- HUBZone is a program that helps businesses in historically underutilized business zones in urban and rural communities get preferred access to government contracts.
- The Eastern Pennsylvania district, which includes the Greater Lehigh Valley, is based in King of Prussia. It has satellite offices in Harrisburg and Wilkes-Barre to improve access to those outside the Greater Philadelphia area.
- The SBA can assist with federally backed loans to help not just businesses but nonprofits, homeowners and renters.
- SBA disaster loan offices get attention for major disasters, but they also help with smaller-scale events such as the 2016 drought that affected 40 counties across Pennsylvania, including Lehigh, Montgomery and Bucks.