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Another Voice: Renew focus on small business to grow region’s economy

By Eric Feldstein

Supporting the success of local small businesses is essential to growing Western New York’s economy.

When Buffalo attracts major employers, the hundreds or thousands of jobs they’ll create make headlines throughout the region. Those are exciting moments worth celebrating. However, it’s the everyday work of helping entrepreneurs start and grow small companies that will drive our region’s resurgence.

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) plays an important role in fueling small business growth, and this Saturday, Linda McMahon makes her first visit to Buffalo as SBA administrator.

During her visit, Administrator McMahon will see firsthand the grit, innovation and ambition of Western New York’s small business owners. However, to channel those attributes into business expansion and job creation, it’s important that we, as a community, understand the needs and potential of local small businesses.

Financial institutions like M&T Bank work with the SBA to provide businesses with financing through its guaranteed loan programs. The SBA’s most common loan program, known as 7(a), helps new and existing businesses gain access to capital to sustain or expand their operations.

And what’s important to understand is, because the SBA guarantees these loans, more companies that are new, nontraditional or may have overcome earlier challenges are able to secure funding to unleash their growth.

In Buffalo and across Upstate New York, SBA loan programs have helped business owners create jobs and improve quality of life in communities that have faced economic obstacles.

Still, businesses need more than capital to grow.

In our recent Business Economic Outlook Survey, we found that businesses are optimistic about the economy but still facing barriers to growth. For example, 62 percent of businesses report experiencing difficulties in finding qualified applicants for job openings.

Additionally, while 70 percent plan to raise wages for employees, survey respondents said rising business costs, such as health care and other benefits, remain a major challenge.

And when businesses are in their startup stages, they need help with mentoring, gaining new customers and identifying vendors and partners to help speed their development.

The five counties of Western New York are home to more than 25,000 small businesses that employ nearly 282,000 workers, according to a 2016 report from the state comptroller. We need to empower this economic force in order to accelerate regional growth.

Let’s recognize Administrator McMahon’s visit as an opportunity to further strengthen our focus on addressing the needs of small business owners.

When you can, shop local. And to those in positions to help with financing, mentoring, policy changes or other needs, support those businesses that support the success of our communities.

As one of the nation’s largest SBA lenders, we’re proud to welcome Administrator McMahon to Buffalo, our hometown and headquarters.

Eric Feldstein is senior vice president and head of business banking at M&T Bank.

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