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3/21/2004

Smaller, but crucial to a vital economy

By Pam Mellskog
The Daily Times-Call

DENVER — Numbers alone make stars of small business owners statewide in lighting the way to economic recovery, according to the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce’s Patty Silverstein.

Of Colorado’s estimated 1.8 million employed residents, a whopping 1.2 million work at places with fewer than 100 co-workers, said Silverstein, a panelist at the Denver Metro Chamber breakfast Thursday at The Westin Tabor Center.

And about 340,000 small business owners classify as really small — as sole proprietors, she said.

Silverstein called that figure “staggering” and said that group of lone rangers played a key role in improving big picture stats.

For instance, sole proprietors in areas such as law, accounting and real estate significantly buoyed expansion, she said, in the fiance and real estate sector.

That sector, along with education/health services, were the only two areas to grow in Colorado between 2001 and 2003, Silverstein added.

Another panelist, Milly Simon, deputy district director for the Small Business Administration’s Colorado District Office, measured small business growth from a different vantage point.

In 1999, she said, SBA guaranteed 950 loans through its network of 200 banks throughout Colorado.

That number jumped to 1,530 last year.

Five years ago, top contenders for those loan guarantees came from beer, wine and liquor store small businesses, she said.

That remains true today.

“That may say something about us in our low economy,” Simon said, laughing.

Restaurants, both fast-food and sit-down, came in second; hotels/motels third; and auto parts stores and laundries tied for the fourth-largest sector vying for an SBA loan.

The loans go to small fry.

But that is often just the beginning, despite the high failure rate associated with small businesses of all stripes.

Colorado’s small business success stories during SBA’s 50 years of guaranteeing loans, she said, include Wild Oats, American Home Furniture and Colorado Construction.

“Think of what it would be without you,” said Simon to the ballroom of men and women in business suits. “Our economy would be in far worse shape.”

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