When Ronald J. Jazowski of St. Clair, Mich., applied for a $40,000 loan from the Small Business Administration to improve the cash flow of his nursery and landscaping business, he went in with a good credit rating from Dun and Bradstreet and an endorsement from his bank.
When the SBA turned him down, Jazowski asked for $25,000. Again the agency turned him down, replying with a form letter that said he had too many debts and not enough collateral and wouldn't succeed.
"What about my $30,000 house as collateral ?" Jazowski asks. "And the fact that I started this business part-time with $17,000 in sales three years ago and we now have $70,000 in sales? The specific reasons didn't hold water."
But Jazowski's situation, congressional staffers say, is typical of the problems many small businesses are encountering when they deal with SBA loan officers. Although SBA hasn't finished sorting out the facts of Jazowski's case for one of his senators, Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Administrator James C. Sanders was quick to say that the administration's policies make rejections more and more likely.
"We are looking for a broad national economic recovery to prompt banks and other lending institutions to lend money instead of the SBA," Sanders said. "We want to get out of that business as much as possible."
But Rep. Parren J. Mitchell (D-Md.), House Small Business Committee chairman, says the SBA is "unmoved by the cash flow crisis engulfing small businesses. The administration continues its tradition of defiance and contempt for the will of the Congress."
Through the first nine months of fiscal 1983, the SBA distributed only $127 million to its regional offices of the $260 million Congress appropriated for direct loans, and the offices have released only $59 million. Mitchell and other members want the agency to start spending the funds.
"We are concerned," Sanders said, "but we know that a different type of solution will work better than the one we are being asked to pursue by Congress. What Mitchell wants sometimes is not in the interest of the small business community."
Committee staffers acted as prospective applicants in telephone conversations with SBA loan officers around the country and were told, more often than not, "that no direct loan money was available," according to Thomas G. Powers, the committee's general counsel. When Powers confronted SBA officials, he said, "They told us we shouldn't have been deceptive and should have identified ourselves. What do you think that would have gotten us?" * * *
FLIP-FLOP . . . During the Carter administration, loan officers won awards or bonuses based on the dollar amount of the loans they made. That's no longer the case. In fact, Sanders said he'd rather see "merit awards for the loan officers who have the best repayment rates from the businesses they handle."
Commented Powers: "That'll make government employes just like bankers . . . . A bank's interest isn't geared to employment in the community; the bottom line is to make money." * * *
STAR WARS . . . As part of the Small Business Innovative Research program, the Energy Department has awarded a contract to develop a laser-like light saber, perhaps similar to the one used by Jedi Knight Luke Skywalker. If the thing works, it could be used by electric utilities to keep their lines clear of tree branches. The award, to a Berkeley, Calif., firm, is one of the first 106 that have been made under the SBA-sponsored program.
"You have to be very careful using tools near lines carrying thousands of volts, because once you touch the power lines, you're dead," said Ryszard Gajewski, Energy's SBIR program manager. The saber is "not a ridiculous concept," he said, yet without the program "they probably would have had a tougher time convincing us that they had something worthwhile to offer."