Cantwell promotes small-business loan fund

By:  Libby Clark
Source: The Columbian

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., visited the Vancouver WorkSource offices Thursday to address unemployment issues in Clark County.

As a steady stream of job seekers passed through the agency’s busy lobby, Cantwell pointed to small business development as one solution to job creation in Washington and across the country.

Many small businesses here are ready to hire again, but they can’t land a bank loan to finance their expansions, Vancouver business owners say.

Columbia Gem House of Vancouver is getting many more orders for jewelry now, for example, but the company isn’t filling them because it can’t find financing to make the jewelry, said owner Eric Braunwart, who attended Cantwell’s speech. That means the company also can’t hire the 10 or so extra workers it needs to fill the orders, he said.

Similarly, Lynn Miller, co-owner of Vancouver Sign Co., is looking for financing to hire more salespeople after expanding the business from its old 10,000-square-foot offices to a 40,000-square-foot warehouse.

“This community was built on small businesses and sometimes we need to help them succeed,” Miller said.

Stricter requirements

At the same time, banks are facing stricter regulatory requirements to keep large amounts of cash on hand to cover loan losses, said Jim Haley, President of Thurston First Bank in Olympia, who spoke after the senator’s remarks. Tied up in loss reserves, that money can’t be loaned out to businesses.

“Small businesses create jobs when they have access to credit,” Haley said.

To address both small business and community banking needs, Cantwell and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., on Wednesday sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid urging him to support a federal small business lending fund, which would provide $30 billion in repaid Troubled Asset Relief Program funding to boost small business lending from the nation’s community banks by $300 billion.

“We need to continue to increase access to capital to small businesses to make sure they’re growing,” Cantwell said.

President Obama first proposed the small business lending plan in his 2010 budget proposal in February, but the Senate has yet to consider the proposal.