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Federal stimulus funds help local businesses grow
SBA increases loan guarantees, aids Hall borrowers by $9.6M
Debbie Love looks Thursday around the entranceway under construction for a laser tag area that is being built as an expansion of the Gainesville Bowling Center. - photo by Tom Reed

Help from DC

Top 10 7(a) loans guaranteed by the Small Business Administration in Hall County:

Gainesville Bowling Center: $1.6 million

Merritt Contracting Inc: $1.3 million

BP Food Mart: $1.2 million

Shadow Services LLC: $950,000

Chestnut Mountain Children Academy Inc.: $785,000

Metro Rentals Inc: $560,000

Aequitas Restaurant Holdings Inc.: $140,000

EZ Check Cashing: $100,000

Kid’s World Early Learning Center: $100,000

Taylor Foodservice LLC: $50,000

Source: ProPublica Recovery Tracker

The clatter of construction at the Gainesville Bowling Center is one sign of federal stimulus funding in the private sector.

A 5,000 square-foot expansion is ongoing at the Browns Bridge Road facility, and work continues on exterior renovations.

Co-owner Debbie Love doubts her business would have been approved for the $1.6 million bank loan to do the work if not for backing from the federal government.

“Probably not,” she said. “As tight as (credit) was, I think that was what enabled it to happen. In these times, it gave the lender some comfort to do it.”

Love’s business took advantage of the federal Small Business Administration’s loan guarantee program known as 7(a). Weekly approvals of SBA-back loans have seen an 86 percent increase since the government raised its loan guarantees to banks from 75 percent to 90 percent and waived a 3 percent fee for borrowers.

The $15 billion expansion of the loan program is part of the $787 billion American Economic Recovery and Investment Act.

According to ProPublica’s Recovery Tracker website, of the $78 million in stimulus funding allocated to Hall County, about $9.6 million is identified as SBA loan guarantees.

The bowling center, an owner-operated BP station and concrete contractor Merritt Contracting are three private businesses in Hall that have secured SBA-backed bank loans of more than $1 million.

The Gainesville Bowling Center currently employs 12 people, but Love is hoping to see that change when the remodeled business is unveiled this summer.

“We’ll be able to employ probably more like 20 to 25 with our new addition and an expected increase in business,” she said.

Jeff Humphries, Director of the University of Georgia’s Selig Center for Economic Growth, noted that with the recession centered on the credit market “these loan guarantees go to the heart of the problem.”

“This seems to be very targeted and very specific to the problem that occurred during this recession,” Humphries said.

Rajeev Dhawan, director of Georgia State University’s economic forecasting center, noted that small businesses are heavily reliant on banks for loans, and since the real estate crash, banks have been increasingly reluctant to make them.

“At this point, to get a normal loan would be difficult,” Dhawan said. “If the government guarantees a principal, then banks are more willing to make the loan. When businesses are able to get the loans, then that stimulates the economy.”

Ron Simmons, Northeast Georgia area director for the University of Georgia’s Small Business Development Center, said SBA loans make up only a small part of the overall lending portfolio in the private sector.

“But in economic times like this, they’ve become more important, because banks that would otherwise be restricted in what they could lend, even to good customers, are now able to lend more.”

“It’s helping banks take a little more risk in tough times,” Simmons said. “It’s helping entrepreneurs get money when the banks otherwise wouldn’t be able to do it.”

Love, the bowling center co-owner, said the stimulus funds have helped the expansion plans for her business “a great deal.”

“It helped make it happen,” she said.

Love said the loan application process was still stringent, “but without the stimulus program, I doubt it would have come to pass.”