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Dan Nordberg, Region 8 administrator for the U.S. Small Business Administration, gets ready to do a TV interview at KOTA-TV in Rapid City, S.D., in November. IMAGE: SBA

The SBA and you: Dan Nordberg, Region 8 administrator, describes the U.S. Small Business Administration and its services

Editor’s note: As Region 8 administrator, Dan Nordberg oversees delivery of the U.S. Small Business Administration’s services in North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado and Montana.

A Colorado State University graduate, Nordberg served in the Colorado House of Representatives from 2013 to 2018 and is a former business development specialist at a resort hotel in Colorado Springs. He spoke with Prairie Business about the SBA, where he has served as Region 8 administrator in Denver since early last year.

Q. Tell us about the Small Business Administration and the Three C’s.

A. The Small Business Administration’s mission is to provide small businesses with access to the Three Cs, which are:

  • Capital
  • Counseling, and
  • Contracts.

Perhaps what we’re best known for is capital. In partnership with private lenders, we offer a number of loan programs to provide access to capital to aspiring entrepreneurs who may not otherwise be eligible for conventional lending.

Q. Would a prospective borrower apply with the SBA?

A. What happens is, they'll go to a private lender that is an SBA lender. We do this in partnership with our lenders in the private sector.

So, the entrepreneur will go in, talk with a banker, look at what avenues for access to capital might be best for their business. And oftentimes for smaller businesses, SBA loans are an attractive option.

If the borrower goes that route, we in turn will guarantee the loan to make it a more attractive proposition for the lender. The point is to help the person get started on the path to entrepreneurship.

Q: How about Counseling, the second C?

A. Many entrepreneurs will spot a great opportunity and say they'd like to start a business, but they don't know where to begin. For them, there is the Small Business Development Center network, which serves as our point of entry to counseling.

The centers offer free one-on-one counseling and low-cost training services. They can help business owners draft a business plan, learn the licensing, tax and regulatory structure in their area, and really answer those entry-level, starting-a-business questions that can sometimes trip entrepreneurs along the way.

We also have another network of services called SCORE, the Service Corps of Retired Executives. It’s a volunteer-driven organization of retired executives who volunteer their time and offered their expertise to aspiring entrepreneurs to give them guidance and counseling.

And we have a service called PTAC – the Procurement Technical Assistance Centers.  That segues into the third C that you mentioned:

Q. Contracts.

A. Contracts. The federal government is the largest purchaser of goods  in the United States. And with that, the government has a goal of awarding 23 percent of all of its contracts to small businesses.

That's  a fantastic opportunity if you are a small business. However, getting into the federal procurement pipeline can be confusing, and you need some assistance navigating the rules and regulations of how to do so.

That's where our friends at PTAC can really help.

Q. Would I meet with a PTAC counselor?

A. Yes. At the PTAC nearest you, you’d meet with a representative who would provide those counseling and support services to get into the procurement pipeline.

Q. Are these services available in both rural and urban areas?

A. Absolutely, and they’re available to the full gamut of businesses, whether it's a manufacturing company in Fargo or a small mom-and-pop restaurant in Dickinson, N.D. That's where it's really neat for us at SBA, because we help such a wide variety of businesses.

And speaking of rural businesses, my No. 1 priority as regional administrator is to help bridge the gaps between urban and rural population centers. In other words, how can we ensure that a business owner in Dickinson has the same access to capital, counseling and contracting opportunities as their counterparts in Sioux Falls or Bismarck?

I'm proud to say that we are really putting that into motion and working hard to accomplish that goal. Because we recognize that even though North Dakota has record low unemployment, not all communities are the same, and there are some cities that are struggling in North Dakota.

Q. What kinds of things are you doing along those lines?

A. At the forefront is the memorandum of understanding that the SBA signed with the U.S. Department of Agriculture last year. The idea is to marry our services as well as our capital access programs to better meet rural markets’ needs.

So right now, and in partnership with USDA, we’re going to those rural communities and jointly presenting on our Capital Access programs. We’re telling people, “SBA might be able to best serve you in this area, but USDA might be a better match in that area.”

It has been great to see two federal agencies with multi-billion-dollar capital-access programs working together give entrepreneurs better access to capital.

Q. Should people watch for these presentations?

A. We are going to be doing joint events – kind of Rural Roadshows – leading into the summer, in various parts of the Dakotas and elsewhere.

At these events, we’ll bring in lenders who make both SBA and USDA loans, and let them talk and answer any questions that prospective borrowers might have. As the lenders will explain, the processes have really been streamlined over the past few years.

Then we’ll also bring along our network of counseling resources. So we’ll have representatives from the local Small Business Development Center, we’ll have a SCORE counselor, we’ll have a PTAC representative who’ll give an overview of contracting opportunities with the federal government.

Typically, we’ll try to incorporate representatives from state and local economic development offices and local chambers of commerce, too.

The goal is for all of us to work in tandem, bring our resources to the forefront and have one unified voice.

After all, we’re all trying to help entrepreneurs; we are all trying to help businesses. But oftentimes in years past, we haven't done the best job of coordinating and working together, and this is an effort to do better at that.

Q. VBOCs are another SBA service, correct?

A. Correct. The Veterans Business Outreach Center goes to military installations and offers courses not only to soldiers who are transitioning out of the military, but also to military spouses. We teach courses on how people can use the skills they’ve learned in the military to start their own small businesses.

Likewise, as soldiers are being transferred from one installation to another, sometimes spouses can experience unemployment or underemployment, especially if they were licensed in a different state. We offer courses that are open to veterans and military spouses to help them get the lay of the land, discuss what opportunities might exist and figure out how best to use the skills they have.

Q. You’re a former Republican state representative in Colorado. How would you persuade, say, a roomful of conservatives about the value of SBA?

A. Here in the United States, we have more than 30 million small businesses. They are the backbone of our economy.

And having an agency at the federal level that advocates on behalf of those businesses and promotes the great work they are doing is essential.

For example, at SBA we have both an Office of Advocacy and an Office of the Ombudsman. The Office of Advocacy serves a crucial role for small businesses, because as regulations are being considered and drafted by federal agencies, the office holds hearings with small businesses around the country. The idea is to get those businesses’ feedback in order to help the agencies draft and shape the proposed rules.

Then once the rules have been put in place, the Office of the Ombudsman continually reviews them to make sure they’re not too burdensome on small businesses. So, when an industry speaks up about a regulation that already has been put in place, the ombudsman will take those comments and fight on the small businesses’ behalf.

Those are two critical functions. Again, given the footprint that small businesses have in our country, we absolutely have to have a federal agency that advocates those businesses’ behalf. And I'm proud to say that's exactly what we do.

Tom Dennis

Editor, Prairie Business