Kim and David Chauvin are no strangers to tough times. Their shrimp-trawling business in Louisiana has survived four major hurricanes in five years, but the two had amassed enough savings to carry them through the floods that Katrina and Rita brought in 2005. However, 2008 brought Gustav and Ike (not to mention the financial crash) and that meant that this family business had to apply for a disaster loan from the SBA. just to survive. Now they're struggling with the losses brought on by the gulf oil spill, and the problem is, they already have a $170,000 loan from the SBA they're paying back so they can't go after another emergency loan. Instead, they've signed a contract with BP to work on the cleanup.
The Chauvins certainly are facing challenging problems in the current economy, but they're not alone. Even in other parts of the U.S. small businesses are still having problems securing working capital to get them through uncertain times. The government is reporting that things are not as bad as they were in 2009, but that's little comfort to the millions of small businesses who typically seek their financing from local community banks that are still hesitant to lend, particularly when they won't know for some time the impact of the new financial reforms. Add to that the fact that small businesses are hanging on to whatever cash they have because they have no idea where things are going and you have a pretty ugly situation.
But there may be hope on the horizon from, arguably, a surprising source--the much demonized Goldman Sachs Group that is pouring $300 million into community development financial institutions (CDFIs) that lend to small businesses. This program is still in its earliest stages, but, according to the managing director and president of the Goldman Sachs Foundation, it will bring "together education, capital, and mentoring and networking to small-business owners." Bank of America is also stepping up but more directly with a goal to lend more than $22 billion in each of the next three quarters.
If you're a small business owner in need of cash (and most are), you might want to check out your bank again. They just might take another look. It couldn't hurt.