April 2, 2014

Editorial: Opportunities going untapped

New York state is doing what it can to encourage and enable women and minorities to succeed in business, but, in this region anyway, the effort isn’t being taken advantage of.

Through the Empire State Development, loans are available to women- and minority-owned businesses to hire staff, buy materials and purchase equipment. This particular initiative was launched last November amid significant fanfare.

The program is called Bridge to Success and provides more than $2 million to lenders as a hedge against losses given to women- and minority-owned businesses. That money is meant to encourage loans to new, small businesses — loans that otherwise might be considered risky.

However, at a past North Country Chamber of Commerce session, it was noted that, in this district, these types of loans are not pursued as thoroughly as they should be.

With all the opportunities hereabouts for women and minorities to thrive with this assistance, we have to wonder why the state help has not been sought.

Think of all of the Native American companies that could benefit from additions of personnel, equipment and materials thanks to affordable loans.

The loans would typically be for less than $200,000, repayable within two years. The Empire State Development Corp., which works to foster business statewide, has $2.73 million in a reserve fund for loan losses.

So, for example, Carver Bank has agreed under these circumstances to lend $4.8 million in short-term assistance to women- and minority-owned businesses that have contracts with the Metropolitan Transit Authority.

According to figures provided by the Governor’s Office, the United States had 5,417,034 women-owned businesses in 1997, employing 7,076,081 workers. By 2014, those figures had swelled to an estimated 9,087,200 businesses and 7,854,200 employees. The number of firms has increased by 67.8 percent.

In New York state, outside New York City, the number of women-owned businesses increased from 394,014 in 1997 to 682,200 in 2014 — a 73.1 percent hike. The number of employees rose 1.7 percent, from 461,127 to an estimated 469,000 (these are small businesses, remember).

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