Small biz owners face credit crunch

Small business

TEXT OF STORY

STEVE CHIOTAKIS: Members of the House are back in their home districts trying to gauge the mood of constituents. One of those legislators -- a freshman congressman from Oregon -- is taking the pulse of small businesses. They face a world of trouble -- from lost credit lines and lower borrowing limits, to banks that won't lend to small businesses at all. From the Entrepreneurship Desk at Oregon Public Broadcasting, Mitchell Hartman reports.


MITCHELL HARTMAN: Aggravated small-business owners packed a hearing room in Oregon's capital, Salem, yesterday. There were nods all around when Wilda Parks, from a local chamber of commerce, complained about limited access to credit.

WILDA PARKS: A business person should not have to max out their personal credit card to be able to run their business successfully.

KURT SCHRADER: I'm hearing frustration, and concern, and entrepreneurial spirit.

That's freshman Democrat Kurt Schrader. He's a member of the House Small Business Committee and runs a neighborhood veterinary practice. He says he empathizes with other small-business owners.

SCHRADER: They're not looking for a government handout. Some of them would like the government to be a lot more responsive, in terms of working with the banks, credit unions, and the small community banks, to free up the credit markets.

Schrader says there's already been some progress. The economic stimulus package made Small Business Administration loans less risky for lenders to make. And there are now deferred-payment loans at 0-percent interest, as well.

That help is welcome. At least to some business owners.

JIM BRUNBERG: [My] financial situation in extremely technical terms is that I'm broke.

Jim Brunberg owns Mississippi Studios, a live-music venue in Portland. It's just undergone a half-million-dollar renovation.

BRUNBERG: I maxed out my credit cards, I borrowed from friends, I borrowed from family. And we got an SBA loan for $350,000 through a local bank, and when summer came this year we just received more funding to sort of tide us over.

Brunberg is confident he'll be able to pay the money back, once rock-group bookings and concert attendance pick up.

Not all small-business owners want to borrow more, though -- with or without SBA help. Sheryl Southwell is president of Specialty Polymers, a manufacturing firm with 80 employees.

SHERYL SOUTHWEL: We have the credit we have, we're going to stay within that credit. We are not spending any money. Because at this point in time we don't know what the future may be.

For those that are looking for help, Congressman Schrader will be heading back to Washington with some ideas. Like, for instance, using bank bailout money that's already been paid back, to spur more small-business lending.

I'm Mitchell Hartman for Marketplace.

About the author

Mitchell Hartman is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Entrepreneurship Desk and also covers employment.

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