Q&A: Jeremy Field, SBA Administrator for the Pacific Northwest
Jeremy Field, regional administrator for the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Pacific Northwest Administrator—which includes Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington—has been traveling Alaska this week.
Insight on obtaining loans, getting a business off the ground, and working at the SBA
Amidst a busy schedule of meeting with chambers, visiting small businesses owners (such as Lori Brewer, 2018 SBA Alaska Small Business Person of the Year), and attending the Vitalize Alaska Business Conference (that included a Shark Tank After Party), Field found time to sit down with Alaska Business Associate Editor Tasha Anderson for a conversation about the SBA’s mission to help every small businesses find success.
AB: What’s your goal on this visit to Alaska?
Field: I was trying to get out to the 8(a) conference they had last week, but there were scheduling conflicts, so we pushed it back so I could have more time with the 8(a) organizations in a different environment this week and still get out to visit some of the small businesses.
And the reason that I get to come out here and do what I do is because my boss, Linda McMahon, is person who believes in bottom-up approaches to government and business solutions and she set the goal that we need to be out in rural areas more often.
I’m from Idaho; I’m a sixth generation Idahoan, and so rural is my wheelhouse. So I’m very happy to be working on that kind of an initiative where we focus on how we help people in rural areas start, grow, expand, and recover in the business lifecycle.
That’s what the SBA offers: tools to help businesses grow, tools to help businesses start. If something unexpected has happened, how do you get a loan to get pass that bump in the road that you experienced? The SBA is a great federal agency that people don’t know about—and that’s the problem, they don’t know about it.
So I’m out here doing whatever I can to shine a light on a service that the federal government offers small businesses to help them receive counseling, help them receive financing, that they don’t even know exists. That is the best part about my job: that I get to talk about this agency that should not be a secret by spotlighting the people that have reached out and have had success as a result of their experience with the SBA.
AB: When a small business approaches the SBA, is there a typical request, say for funding or help with accounting?
Field: That’s the fun part: entrepreneurs know that there’s not “typical,” that there’re just things that come up and you say, “Wow, this is a problem now and I have to figure out how to solve this problem.” … We have partners like the Small Business Development Centers (SBDC), the Women Business Centers, and the Veteran’s Centers; all these communities have different challenges, but you can come in and [the SBA] can help you write a business plan or help you look at lenders in your community that have traditionally lended to people like you before.
What’s nice about the SBA is, while we don’t offer the loan directly, we’ll guarantee a lender’s loan up to 80 percent with a 7a loan. So maybe you’re not the traditional loan that a bank would typically take a risk on, but because the federal government is willing to back it through the SBA, the lender is going to take that risk.
And this is all no cost. We’re financed by the federal tax payer. When you’re thinking, “Oh, I don’t have money to afford a counselor,” that’s okay, you paid your taxes, you have a counselor in the SBA that can help you.
One of my favorite examples: in Pocatello, we had these two great SBDC professionals in my community, and there was a local microbrewery and the owners were ready to sell their business. They wanted to sell to a long-time employee who wanted to buy. But the owners had set a selling price, and the employee just couldn’t figure out how to make that work. So the employee approached the SBDC, and they took all the profit-loss statements and ran them through their programs, and then they ended up as mediators between the buyer and the seller. The seller said okay, if I sell the business at the price I want, my employee who wants to buy this business is going to make less than $25,000 a year. That helped the sellers realize, “Okay, I can either wait around for someone who has a lot more cash, or I want to sell my business and maybe I’ve overvalued it for the people that are out there to buy my business.” They were able to look at those numbers provided by the SBDC and find a meeting of the minds.
That was an extremely valuable service that the SBDC in Pocatello, Idaho offered this entrepreneur that wanted to help these Baby Boomers retire.
And that’s a scenario that’s happening all over the country: the silver tsunami that everyone has read about, people that have all their money tied up in their business. Let the SBA help you sell that business or provide the counseling to the people that might want to buy it.
The SBA wants to be entrepreneurial like the people we serve. We’ll try to find a creative solution for you.
We are not a silver bullet. We can’t be everything to everybody. But what we do, we do well. If we’re not the answer, we’re going to help you find who the answer is. We have so many different resources out there to help you be successful in your small business. Take advantage of the government-sponsored counseling service for your small business. See if you can do it no-cost with us first before you go somewhere else.
AB: How does the SBA recruit people who are capable of handling any situation that comes across their desk?
Field: It’s always a competition for the best and the brightest. The benefit we have in the federal government is [that] they’re just desirable jobs. Maybe you don’t make as much money as the private sector at times, but you have great benefits, and we have a mission that people are passionate about. And we can be discriminatory in our interview process; we can find the people that are passionate about small business and that have that desire to help other people grow.
We’ve recently just hired three new positions [in Alaska] and that’s what our district director was looking for: someone who had the passion. We had people who had the know-how, but did they have the know-how and did they have the drive to help the community in this area?
Nancy Porzio, the Alaska district director, has been doing this for thirty-one years. She knows the SBA, and we have a lot of depth here in the Alaska district office. We feel like, because these positions are desireable, we get to pick and choose from really great people, and we have a really great team here in Alaska.
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AB: Linda McMahon has been in her role as the SBA Administrator for two years now; what kind of effect has her leadership had on the organization?
Field: What I appreciate about Linda McMahon is she goes out there and works for bottom-up approaches. She wants to know how things are looking on the ground and she wants that communication to come from our field offices back to headquarters to influence policy and programs. I can’t speak to the history of the entire SBA, but what I can tell you is I’m a big believer in bottom-up communication—people that are doing the work on the ground need to be able to feel like they can speak whenever they want to, that the information they pass on is valued and applied. Whenever that process is in effect, your agency is going to improve.
That’s what the SBA is seeing under Linda McMahon’s leadership, a commitment to bottom-up approaches. People are being heard.
We’re focused on putting businesses at the center of everything that we do. That’s the target, so are we listening to our clients are we listening to people that are serving our clients on the ground so that we are delivering programs that work. It doesn’t matter if you offer a loan program if you’ve designed it in a way that people can’t qualify for the loan.
It’s fun to be a part of an agency that has that kind of an approach. Linda McMahon doesn’t come in and pretend to be an omniscient presence and dictate on high [about] how to do things. She has a very smart approach where she gets good people and trusts them to do good things and listens to them. That’s a great person to work for.
AB: Have you been to Alaska before?
Field: This is my first trip. I’m so happy to be here. I’m a big outdoorsman, I love to fish, so I feel like it’s kind of a trip to mecca. [Field laughs.] I walked in and it was so great, I feel like all the good feelings I came here with were rewarded: there were beluga whales swimming [in Cook Inlet, of which the SBA building in downtown Anchorage has a stunning view], so I feel like I’ve been welcomed by the whales and it’s been a spiritual experience so far. It’s wonderful.
I’ve been reading about [Alaska]. Politics is local, and everything we do is through a prism of our communities. It’s so fun to come as a traveler to a community and try to absorb that and appreciate it, so that’s what I’m doing.
The float planes were the first thing I saw as I came out of the airport. I look up and there’s this plane flying over that I know is going to land on some remote lake somewhere delivering goods and services. Alaska is a frontier, and I’m so happy to finally be here. I can’t believe it took me this long to get out here.
AB: When you have an opportunity to meet with small businesses that have taken advantage of SBA services, do you solicit feedback about their experiences?
Field: I ask about it all the time when I get a chance. I talked to one gentleman—I was just at Costco getting tires—and I told him I worked for the SBA. He told me, “I went to sixteen banks before I finally got an SBA loan.” I asked if he was working with a SBDC or with the SBA. He was just doing it himself. And I wished he had come and allowed us to advocate for him and steer him toward the lenders that we think would be interested in his kind of business. When people hear “SBA,” the feedback we get back is they think it’s the Small Business Association. They don’t realize that Linda McMahon is a member of the Cabinet. It’s a federal agency. We are out there. And the biggest misconception is people just plain don’t know we exist.
It’s about stories. These small businesses are success stories. They’re the ones that we get to say, this person has seen success using our programs, you can see success, too. That’s why it’s so important when we go out and do these things that I’m actually meeting the small business people so that we can get them out on Twitter and that we can promote them.
AB: You mentioned earlier a SCORE Chapter; can you talk about that program a bit more?
Field: In addition to our SBDCs, Women’s Business Centers, and Veterans Outreach, we also have what are called SCORE Chapters. If you’re looking for a way to give back to the business community, and you want to help be a mentor to a small business person, SCORE Chapters are a place where you can volunteer your time and help take someone under your wing, using all of your business experience that you’ve gained to help them be successful… If you’re a retired accountant and you want to help small businesses understand accounting, help us do a workshop, a webinar, teach a class, whatever it is that people want consume here in Alaska; maybe help them understand laws that are applicable to the state of Alaska and the federal government. Or if you’re just really good at putting a business plan together, if you are really good at helping somebody with an HR issue, those are valuable skill sets that you can pass on to people that need that expertise.
People volunteer when they’re asked: I’m asking people to look for opportunities to serve their communities through local the SCORE Chapter. To get involved just call the SBA.
AB: What advice do you have for a small business approaching the SBA that allows it to get the best service possible?
Field: Don’t be shy to talk about your problems. We’ve seen it all. You don’t have to pretend like you’re doing better than you are, it’s not a competition. We are literally here to take what you have and see what we can do.
In This Issue
Out of the Mine and into the Smelter
Mining has long been a key fixture of Alaska’s economy. On a small scale, people flock to the 49th state to tour different operations. Kennecott Mine was once a booming copper mining site and is now a National Historic Landmark, attracting tourists eager to visit the ghost town and get a feel of the Gold Rush era it once dominated.