Congressional gridlock already has stymied efforts to resurrect an obscure but popular Small Business Administration loan program that expired last year. The campaign looks still more daunting with the federal government shut down.
But intrepid fans of the SBA 504 debt refinancing initiative, including small-business owners and lenders in the Twin Cities, aren’t quitting. They say the temporary stimulus program was so effective at helping small companies and creating jobs that Congress should make it permanent.
“We can’t let Congress … bicker back and forth while jobs are languishing,” said Kristin Wood. “It’s all about jobs.”
Wood, head of a nonprofit small-business lender in Arden Hills called SPEDCO, was one of several business people stumping for the SBA program Tuesday on the plant floor at Haberman Machine in Stillwater. One of the SBA 504 “debt refi” loans in 2011 helped the family-owned company refinance a mortgage on another plant and emerge from the downturn. It now has reached its 30th anniversary.
Founder John Ness said Haberman now does about $10 million in sales annually and employs 80 people, manufacturing a wide range of gear and components for companies in military and defense, oil and gas, and filtration systems. Now it’s looking at aerospace.
“When you are in this business, you are asset-rich and cash-poor,” said his daughter, company controller Kimberly Arrigoni.
To illustrate, Ness pointed across the plant to one of several expensive horizontal machining centers.
“That’s a house over there,” Ness said.
On Tuesday they were making aluminum rifle components.
The SBA 504 debt refi program was created by the JOBS Act of 2010. It allowed businesses that own and occupy commercial real estate to refinance their mortgage to a lower rate, and extract equity from the real estate as long as the money is reinvested in the business.
Money-saving low interest rates were locked in for 20 years. About 2,700 of the loans were made in the year before the program expired last year.
Beth Solomon, head of the National Association of Development Companies in Washington, said part of the debt refi program’s success was that it was largely self-funding since lenders made money bundling the SBA loans and reselling them to investors on the secondary market. It costs the federal government nearly nothing, she said.
Solomon has been lobbying for the Commercial Real Estate and Economic Development Act (CREED Act), a bill that would reinstate the program for another five years. It’s a no-brainer, she said, but the bill hasn’t gotten the bipartisan support in the House that it needs because some lawmakers perceive it as a government cost.
“The door is closed in our face among the Tea Party,” Solomon said. “It’s this broad brush that captures these very helpful programs in the drag net.”