- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Like many American entrepreneurs, Peter Benson and his wife invested every dime of their savings into their Kansas

manufacturing company, which employs 55 workers and manufactures and exports steel parts. Over the past 12 years, they tripled their sales and doubled employment - in the face of a market crash and two recessions. Now Mr. Benson wants to expand and hire more workers. However, though he has a perfect track record, his loan, backed by the Small Business Administration (SBA), has reached the $2 million maximum allowed by law. Despite his desire to create more good-paying jobs, he cannot get the additional credit he needs.

Unfortunately, Mr. Benson’s story is not unique. Small businesses traditionally have been our nation’s job creators, with 65 percent of new jobs coming from them. But over the past year, they have suffered from the fiscal downturn - more than 80 percent of the jobs lost came from small businesses. Today, small businesses want to hire new workers, but their ability is just out of reach.

As chairman of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, I am working with Democrats and Republicans to ensure that the Small Business Administration is a more muscular agency and that small businesses have the tools they need to continue as our nation’s innovators and job creators.

With the next jobs bill on the horizon, the Senate is in a position to include a package of Small Business Committee-approved measures that passed by overwhelming bipartisan margins and, at minimal cost to taxpayers, will put hundreds of thousands of Americans back to work in 2010. This begins by:



c Expanding access to capital: Last year, through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Congress increased guarantees from 75 percent to 90 percent and eliminated fees on small-business loans. These provisions worked - supporting $18.2 billion in new lending and helping create more than 500,000 jobs. But the money has run out. To help small-business owners like Peter Benson expand, we must extend these programs, increase the loan-limit cap from $2 million to $5.5 million and allow the refinancing of commercial real estate debt into long-term, fixed-rate loans.

c Enhancing small-business exports: At a time when sales at home are low, exporting offers a global customer base for small firms. With less than 1 percent of small businesses currently exporting, we must boost our small businesses’ exporting potential by improving access to loans and counseling programs for small businesses and enhancing knowledge and interagency coordination of existing federal export assistance resources.

c Ensuring federal contracts go to small businesses: Unlike large businesses that can potentially absorb new government contracts into their work-force, when small businesses get government work, they “hire up.” This is exactly what we want. This makes government contracting one of the easiest and most inexpensive ways the government can immediately help increase sales for America’s entrepreneurs. We must remove the red tape and close loopholes that too often put government work into the hands of multinational corporations instead of Main Street businesses.

c Encouraging counseling and training: Small businesses rely on counseling programs and centers to help them survive and grow efficiently. This includes Small Business Development Centers, which helped save or create nearly 150,000 jobs last year. To keep small businesses strong, Congress must strengthen these programs and end unrealistic requirements that might hamper their success.

Investing in America’s small businesses now will be the key to driving down unemployment and securing the futures of families from coast to coast. These businesses have borne the greatest burden in this economy, and they are the businesses that have the greatest potential to improve it.

These simple, inexpensive and common-sense proposals - along with tax cuts to small businesses to help them hire new employees - can help turn pink slips into paychecks for American workers. The small-business package should be considered by the full Senate as soon as possible as part of the next jobs-creating legislation.

Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, Louisiana Democrat, is chairman of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship.

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