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4/17/2003

Giving a kick-start

By Pam Mellskog
The Daily Times-Call

LONGMONT — What do Federal Express, Quizno’s, Ben & Jerry’s and Microsoft have in common? A Small Business Administration guaranteed loan.

This year, the federal SBA celebrates 50 years of meeting its mission to “aid, counsel, assist and protect the interests of small-business concerns,” said Elton “Mick” Ringsak, Denver-based SBA regional administrator.

Local beneficiaries include Blue Cloud Farms, 6069 Prospect Road, and Ahlberg Funeral Chapel, 326 Terry St.

“It took a year to get through the red tape,” recalled Dick Ayres. But in April 1971, the SBA guaranteed a $20,000 loan — something, he said, that underwrote a 13-stall barn and 26-stall shed row for Blue Cloud, a riding center.

That amount might seem insignificant today, but not when considered in context. Ayres explained that he and his wife, Ruth, bought the 40-acre property, the house and all the outbuildings in the late 1960s for $100,000.

“Back then, ($20,000) was a lot of money. There were houses in town that you could buy for that kind of money,” said Rod Ahlberg. In 1969, his parents also secured an SBA guaranteed loan of $21,500 for a facilities upgrade.

Nearly a dozen other local businesses, from Longmont Lanes to the Oxford Reading Institute, took out SBA guaranteed loans in those early days, according to SBA records.

All but two of those businesses ultimately failed. But the SBA stayed the course in providing a three-pronged benefit to small businesses, Ringsak said.

The SBA ensures that a minimum 23 percent of all government contracts go to small businesses. It also provides disaster-relief loans and guarantees local lender loans up to 75 percent, he said.

“The key is giving the entrepreneur with good ideas access to capital,” he said.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s claim to fame might be his development of the interstate highway system, Ringsak said. But Ike also established the modern SBA, though it is the fruit of many predecessor programs beginning in 1932.

Early programs aimed to help businesses big and small until the United States jumped into World War II.

“That’s when the large companies started beefing up their production to accommodate the large defense contracts,” Ringsak said. “The small businesses couldn’t compete (without government intervention).”

These days, he said, the program most often benefits small-business owners in rural America or those considered more qualified — veterans, women and minorities.

Last year, in Colorado alone, the SBA guaranteed nearly a half-billion dollars in loans, according to Ringsak. That money was awarded both to brick-and-mortar projects and to provide cash flow.

“We’re one of the best-kept secrets in government,” Ringsak said. “And the surprising thing is that right now is when we’re needed most.”

For more information, visit www.sba.gov or call 303-844-2607.

Pam Mellskog can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 224, or by e-mail at pmellskog@times-call.com.