- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Recent changes to federal guidelines as part of the recovery act will help small businesses in Prince George’s County by refinancing existing loans to increasing cash flow and support job growth, state and business officials said.

“The whole objective here is to help a lot of companies affected by the economic meltdown and also to create employment,” said Anthony Ruiz, the regional director of the Maryland Small Business Development Center.

“The government is poising Maryland for huge projects for highway construction. We are training contractors to be in better positions to bid for [government] contracts,” Mr. Ruiz said. “Every day we get clients that have lost their jobs and decided they want to be in charge of their own destiny. We show people how to start their own companies all the time.”

Prince George’s County officials held a free “Cost Proposals and Stimulus Package Workshop” on July 27 in Largo to explain how small businesses can access government contracts under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Changes in the so-called 504 Certified Development Company program, under which small contractors and businesses are eligible for government loans, were authorized in the recovery act. The bill is divided into nine key components and now includes an expanded refinancing project for section 504 loans.

The Small Business Administration’s 504 Certified Development Company program was originally designed to help businesses purchase property and heavy equipment and expand current development projects.

The recovery act now allows 504 of the projects under the program to include a limited amount of debt refinancing if there is a business expansion and the debt refinanced does not exceed 50 percent of the projected cost of the expansion, according to a release from the SBA. Additionally, certain Certified Development Company fees have been temporarily eliminated, making the 504 loans more affordable for small businesses.

“Under the program, a 504 loan is required to create or retain a minimum number of jobs within two years of the loan disbursement as a result of the project or to meet other defined economic development objectives,” as stated in the SBA release.

Karen G. Mills, chief of the SBA, said in a statement, “Raising the surety bond limit is a critical step in making small business in the construction and service sector have access to federal contracting opportunities that will help drive the economic recovery.”

During the seminar, county officials said the refinancing program may help smaller businesses tap into larger development projects that include National Harbor and the University Town Center at College Park.

“The main thing we want to do is keep people in business. I will offer suggestions on how my clients can capitalize on these changes” said Kiesha Haughton Smoots, senior business consultant of the Maryland Small Business Development Center, which partners with the SBA, the University of Maryland and private industry.

“People that are hit by the struggling economy come to us to see what programs are available that they can get financial assistant with. They want to go to take their business to next level beyond just surviving,” Mr. Ruiz said.

Odell Ruffin is a freelance writer living in Prince George’s County.