Cantwell: Tri-Cities’ Small Businesses Poised for Job Growth

New committee chairwoman says she’ll work to improve contracting experience; increase capital for small businesses

PASCO, WA – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) – the new chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship – said she’ll work to improve the process for small businesses contracting with the federal government and will focus on key programs that help Tri-City small businesses grow and create jobs.

Cantwell spoke to approximately 230 attendees of the “Bridging Partnerships” Small Business Symposium -- the second stop on her statewide “Listening Tour on Small Business Job Creation.” The audience included Hanford contractors and small business owners, as well as those interested in contracting with agencies such as Department of Energy (DOE).

“The Tri-Cities is a hub of innovation, and that innovation could be an impetus for job creation,” Cantwell said during the speech at the TRAC Center. “We want these ideas that are being created right now in somebody’s garage in Kennewick or Pasco to turn into businesses that end up growing jobs in the region.”

In Franklin County, 84 percent of small businesses have fewer than five employees.

On government contracting, Cantwell said she’ll work with the Small Business Administration to improve contracting programs for small businesses and ensure they offer mentorships and training. “We want to make sure we get that right,” Cantwell said.

In 2012, the Department of Energy had $6.3 billion in contracts with small businesses – defined as businesses with 500 or fewer employees. Cantwell also said she wants to ensure SBA goals for contracts going to small businesses are realistic when it comes to Hanford’s mission and the needs the Department of Energy has for specialized experience handling nuclear waste.

On improving access to capital for small businesses, Cantwell touted two SBA loan programs -- the 7(a) loan program, which provides working capital to businesses with difficulty obtaining traditional financing, and the SBA 504 loan program, which provides loans to purchase equipment or real estate loans. Through these programs, the federal government assumes part of the risk to encourage lenders to open access to capital. Credit still remains tight for many small businesses six years after the 2008 economic crash.

“We want to make sure capital is flowing to small businesses who are going to make something in America besides exotic financial instruments, and we think many of you are those businesses,” Cantwell said.

Cantwell also highlighted SBA’s Small Business Development Centers, which provide technical assistance to all types of businesses, and the SBA’s competitive Small Business Innovation Research Program (SBIR) under which small businesses can apply for research and development grants. In Washington state, more than 100 businesses participated in the program in 2012.

Her speech follows a field hearing in Vancouver in which Cantwell heard from small businesses, lenders and economic development leaders about the challenges and successes in getting loans for local businesses to expand and create jobs.

Next week, Cantwell will convene a hearing with innovators in the Seattle high-tech community on the importance of research – and the SBIR program administered by the Small Business Administration.  She’ll be joined by new SBA Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet.

Cantwell and Contreras-Sweet then will travel to Arlington to hear from local businesses affected by the State Route 530 mudslide. The SBA oversees low-interest loans to businesses that are damaged or suffer economic loss from a disaster. SBA also administers loans to homeowners to help with damages not covered by insurance. The visit will follow President Obama’s scheduled visit to the disaster site on April 22.

On Friday April 25, Cantwell will join Senator Jim Risch (R-ID), ranking member of the Small Business Committee, for a roundtable in Spokane and business tour in Couer d’Alene, Idaho, to discuss the importance of increasing Inland Northwest small business exports.

Cantwell has long been a Senate leader in expanding opportunities for small businesses to grow and create jobs. She played a pivotal role in the Senate passage of the landmark Small Business Jobs Act (SBJA) of 2010, which expanded small businesses’ access to capital and created new export initiatives.

The Small Business Administration reported that 549,391 small businesses were operating in Washington state in 2011. That represents 98.1% of all employers and these businesses provide 53.7% of private sector jobs in the state. 


Listening Tour on Small Business Job Creation


THURSDAY, 4/24 – Seattle: Cantwell to host field hearing.

Further details to follow


THURSDAY, 4/24 – Arlington: Cantwell to hold roundtable with small businesses affected by State Route 530 landslide.

Further details to follow


FRIDAY, 4/25 – Spokane and Couer d’Alene: Sens. Cantwell and Risch to host roundtable with Inland Northwest small businesses about increasing small business exports.

Further details to follow