A small business lending forum recently took place in Oak Park with U.S. Rep. Gary Peters (D- Bloomfield Township) as the special guest speaker.

Peters serves on two committees relevant to small business: the Financial Services Committee and the Small Business Committee. The latter oversees the Small Business Administration. He told the business owners gathered at the Sahara Restaurant that his passion in Congress is working with small business owners.

He believes that small business owners are really the engine of growth in our economy, and added that as important as it was to make sure we continued to have an auto industry in this state, that’s not enough in the greater Detroit area.

“We need to further diversify and continue to grow, and when you talk about diversifying, and growing any jobs in that same sentence, you have to have our small business owners.”

Peters told the gathered small business owners that they’re the engine of the future for our area.

“Your success is directly tied to the success for all of us, together, so we need to be those partners,” he said.

Peters invited small business owners to contact him regarding challenges they’ve faced and experiences they’ve had so, if necessary, Congress can adjust policies.

“I can work with my banker friends as well to try to make sure you have access to the lending that you need,” he noted.

“We’ve come through a pretty tough period, as a result of what happened with the debacle on Wall Street, and the collapse of the financial markets and money freezing up everywhere,” he said. “It has been felt particularly hard on main streets. Main streets here in Oak Park and main streets across America.”

He added that local and regional banks have also been hit hard, saying those smaller banks were victims as much as anyone else.

“They weren’t the ones that caused the problems on Wall Street, and yet they found themselves in a difficult position with credit markets freezing, with real estate values dropping as dramatically as they had.”

He pointed out that it was tough to have that kind of lending ability, particularly when regulators came in and said these smaller banks had to increase their reserves.

“When they do that, it made it very difficult for them to lend,” Peters said. “And when they don’t lend to you, you don’t create jobs. And when you don’t create jobs, the economy doesn’t get stronger.”

He noted that he worked closely with President Obama on the Small Business Lending Act, which he said worked to free up more resources from the Small Business Administration (SBA).

Peters encouraged business owners to reach out to SBA, and added that the Detroit area leads in number of SBA loans nationwide.

Allen Cook, assistant district director of the Lender Relations Division of the SBA’s Michigan District Office, said small business owners represent the true American economy, saying the small business community makes the community what it is.

“All that we do at SBA centers around small businesses,” Cook said. “The only reason we exist is to provide services and assistance for small businesses.”

He also said the SBA offers more than financial assistance programs. These include counseling and training programs. The counseling services are free and are “great” for any business owner.

The SBA also has Women’s Business Centers, and assists small businesses in getting their fair share of federal contracts.

Cook took a few minutes to debunk a few myths about the SBA.

“Number one, we don’t have grant programs, we’ve never had grant programs,” he said.

He also said for the vast majority of small businesses, grant programs — in general — are not available.

Second, he said the SBA does not make direct loans to businesses using federal government dollars.

Third, the SBA does not have specific programs for women and minority owned businesses. It does, however, have one for veteran-owned businesses.

The local SBA office can be reached at (313) 226-6075 or

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