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Al Lawson discusses disparities in access to capital in Jacksonville

At the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce Monday Morning, Rep. Al Lawson and Rep. James Comer helmed a Congressional field hearing for the Small Business Committee regarding access to capital disparities.

The disparities disproportionately impact female and minority-owned businesses, and the hearing in Jacksonville was intended to discuss potential remedies to the challenge.

“Capital is the lifeblood of any business,” Lawson said, noting that the average African-American startup is 18 percent less likely than white business owners to get help from the lending industry.

“Investors are predisposed to a preference to people who are similar to them,” Lawson added, and to that end, Monday’s hearing was intended to help women and minority-owned businesses voice their needs in the marketplace.

Jimmy Van Horn, a Lead Lender Relations Specialist for the Small Business Administration, noted that given the “insurmountable hurdle” of access to capital issues, the SBA steps in to help with loans ranging from microloans to loans up to $5 million.

Microloans, said Van Horn, are especially useful for startup businesses, especially when combined with technical advice.

Hillary Almond, President of Almond Engineering, resigned her role at JEA 14 years ago and went into business for herself.

The company was started on a wing and a prayer, and even over a decade after founding, the vast amount of grossed money goes back into the business. New hires can’t happen without necessary capital, Almond said, as she lacks the resources to float their salaries.

“Getting loans, getting capital, it’s very difficult … banks shy away,” Almond said regarding the SBA process, contravening Van Horn’s assertion.

“I go to banks, the people doing loans there don’t even want to talk about SBA. I would love to get an SBA loan; that would help me,” Almond added.

Roslyn Mixon-Phillips, Vice President of The Hester Group, described the risky loans minority-owned businesses had to undertake, given being foreclosed from traditional lending, including home mortgages, credit cards, and “lenders of last resort.”

Time impacts, as well as lack of “business acumen,” preclude often operational concerns.

“They’re often too busy performing the work of the services,” Phillips said, and lack the advantages of corporate infrastructure.

“In my more than 30 years working with small businesses,” Phillips added, “my impression is that the more things change, the more they remain the same.”

Philips urged patience and persistence with the SBA process.

“If one door closes, another door opens,” Phillips said.

Dane Grey, President of Elite Parking Services, had a different story, describing how access to private capital has facilitated his company’s expansion throughout the region.

“What we did initially was put together a business plan,” Grey said. “To create something that is different … a viable product, and a business plan with people who understood our business.”

Panelists agreed that access to microloans would help smaller businesses.

Written By

A.G. Gancarski has been a working journalist for over two decades, with bylines in national and local publications alike on subjects ranging from pop music to national and global politics. Gancarski has been a correspondent for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014, and has held a column in Jacksonville, Florida's Folio Weekly for two decades. In 2018, he was a finalist for an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies "best political column." Gancarski is a frequent presence on Jacksonville television and radio, including fill-in slots on WJCT-FM's award-winning talk show "First Coast Connect." He can be reached at a.g.gancarski@gmail.com.

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