Growing a small business in even a thriving economy can be difficult. In a volatile economy with uncertainties around every corner, the task has become more difficult than ever, according to some experts.
Few people in Western New York know more about the challenges facing smaller entrepreneurs than Franklin J. Sciortino. He has been with the U.S. Small Business Administration for 48 years and is currently district director.
He sat down with The Buffalo News’ Brian Meyer to discuss efforts to raise the minimum wage and problems that many businesses face snaring loans. This is a summary of part of the weekly installment of the “In Focus” series.
Meyer: Tell me what you think the local climate is for small business.
Sciortino: By nature, I’m an optimist, OK? And I think the local economy is good for small business and always has been. Because one of the strengths of Western New York is the fact that we have such a tremendous population of hardworking people. I see this in the businesses that are coming in to start businesses. They’re motivated, and they’re very sure about what they want to do. And we have so many programs to help them ... I believe that if you came and utilized all the programs that SBA has, your chances of success [are twice as good] as someone who doesn’t come to use our services ...
Meyer: Let’s talk about the elephant in the room: [raising] the minimum wage. It’s an issue statewide. It’s certainly an issue nationwide ... A lot of folks are saying that small businesses are going to be hurt most if the minimum wage is increased.
Sciortino: No, I think it’s going to be just the opposite. I think that small businesses are going to be helped. Because if you take the difference between the $7.25 [minimum wage] now and you to go to the $9 that the president is suggesting, and I guess also the State of New York, that would put into someone that works 40 hours [weekly] almost $4,000 more income into their budget. That $4,000 goes back out again. I call it a domino effect. That goes out into the community. If they are making more money, they have more money to spend on different things. So what it is, it’s a catalyst as far as I’m concerned, to assist small businesses to grow even further...
Meyer: Getting the expertise [from SBA programs] is one step. What about the all-important mission of getting the money. That is, the access to capital ... As a former small-business reporter, I heard that [issue] more often than any other problem ...
Sciortino: We in Buffalo are very fortunate, because we have some of the best banks, as far as I’m concerned, in the country ... We’re very fortunate to have banks like M&T (a leading SBA lender in the country). Now we have some of the smaller banks [helping small businesses] ... Then we have First Niagara, which is now becoming a major player, and KeyBank.
Meyer: So they’re not becoming overly cautious after the debacles that we’ve seen [as a result of the credit crisis]?
Sciortino: I don’t think it’s being overly cautious. I think it’s just a question of being a good business person. Because [banks] are a business, too ... Everyone thinks that money is the cure-all. It’s not. We know from experience that the majority of businesses fail because they lack the ability to manage the business, not because they didn’t have enough money. I’ve had people come to me and say “I failed because you didn’t loan me enough money.” You failed because you didn’t do your homework.