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Congress needs to stop talking and support small business lending programs

Representative Sam Graves, chairman of the House Committee on Small Business, recently wrote an article for FoxNews.com discussing a well-worn theme among small business owners nationwide.  

He discussed how Main Street America needs capital for growth and how Washington needs to “stand to the side and let the American entrepreneur lead the path to recovery.”  

Rep. Graves is right, but sadly he’s part of the beltway elite blocking the path of entrepreneurs through his inexplicable lack of support of two key small business lending programs set to expire in coming months.

The U.S. Small Business Administration “504” loan refinance program and First Mortgage Lien Pool (FMLP) are currently serving as much-needed sources of growth capital for small business, yet both will sunset this summer unless members of Congress, including Rep. Graves, stop talking about reform and start voting for it.  Part of the Small Business Jobs and Credit Act of September 2010, both programs were subject to severe bureaucratic delays which hampered their use and impact.  Both programs are literally set to end just months after they started.

The 504 program, which helps business owners buy commercial property, has historically been a zero-subsidy program, meaning that no tax dollars are required to keep it running.  

It has quietly been a successful job creator for the SBA for decades, as these loans have helped create hundreds of thousands of U.S. jobs.  The refinancing provision has opened up this source of capital to thousands of businesses that would otherwise be starving for growth cash, especially with banks under regulatory pressure to reduce commercial real estate exposure.

The FMLP program, though far from a household name, is filling an important void for credit-worthy, “special purpose properties” that are generally not being financed in the conventional marketplace.  

While the credit markets have thawed for some industries, special-purpose properties (i.e. the hotel you stayed at for business last week; the franchised restaurant you patronized last night or the assisted-living facility where your mother-in-law resides), haven’t begun to exit their deep-freeze.  

FMLP has been the only option for many, and the results are impressive.   For example, the Ohio owner of three Max & Erma’s franchise restaurants recently took advantage of the 504 refinance and FMLP programs.  He reduced his yearly debt service from more than $800,000 to approximately $250,000.  It is evident these programs represent significant small business stimulus.

For all the talk from Washington these days about “access to capital for small businesses,” if these two programs (504 refinance and FMLP) don’t get extended, there will be a massive, new credit freeze for small business owners -- and the ramifications will be dramatic. 

If Congress and Chairman Graves truly want to help meet the needs of entrepreneurs in a still-challenging credit environment, then they need to tone down the rhetoric and pass meaningful extensions of small business lending programs.

Christopher G. Hurn is the co-founder and CEO of Mercantile Capital Corporation in Orlando, Fla., a nationwide provider of small business real estate loans and interim financing.  Hurn recently testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship, where he presented solutions to redesigning the SBA's 504 program.  For more information on MCC, SBA 504 loans or the FMLP program, contact Hurn at 1-866-622-4504 or visit www.504Experts.com.