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Supporting Small Businesses with SBA District Director Adriene Brown

4 min read

Adriene Brown joined the Small Business Administration in April. She previously worked 13 years for the U.S. Department of Defense, where she was deputy division chief for Shared Services and Outreach and Engagement branch chief for the Center for Development of Security Excellence.

She has a bachelor’s degree in information technology from Florida A&M University and a master’s degree in human resources management from the University of Texas at Arlington.

How have higher interest rates affected SBA lending?

When compared to fiscal year 2022, we have seen a 17% decrease in the number of loans in Arkansas this fiscal year; however, the amount of the loans has increased by $24 million. Undoubtedly, interest rates have had an impact; however, the numbers tell a mixed story. We have a long way to go to get to pre-pandemic numbers.

What’s one of the main challenges you’re hearing from small-business owners?

Inflation is the primary concern, followed by commodities pricing and concerns over the threat of recession. These challenges are compounded further by small businesses who don’t have access to capital.

Many Arkansas businesses have been dealing with disasters this year. How does the SBA help?

The SBA provides low-interest disaster loans to help businesses, private nonprofit organizations, homeowners and renters in disaster-affected areas to recover. The loans can help with incurred costs not covered by insurance. The key is to apply for the SBA disaster loan within the allotted time after the declaration. The time frame varies based on economic injury and physical damage. It’s better to put the application in and not need it, than to need it and miss applying.

What has this year been like for small-business growth in Arkansas?

We are seeing fewer startups this year. There are many factors that contribute to this trend — bank deserts, capital access gaps, interest rates. In April 2023, SBA took steps to address bank deserts by expanding the number of lenders who can offer SBA-guaranteed loans. In addition to this, SBA has been working to modernize the lending criteria and conditions for SBA’s business loan programs. This move can expand capital for business owners who may not have otherwise been able to get an SBA loan.

What do you wish small businesses knew about SBA services?

That SBA offers support throughout the life of their business. Free technical assistance and support are available whether just starting up or seeking to grow their business. Also, if conventional loans are out of reach, our lending programs offer competitive rates. If they want to expand their business, we can certify them to contract with the federal government or provide guidance to them if they have an exportable product. The SBA has the resources small-business owners need.

How confident are small-business owners post-pandemic?

Business owners are by nature optimistic. However, the past several years have been challenging post-pandemic with inflation, difficulty hiring and crime spiking. Fundamentally though, it depends on where the business owner is in the life cycle of a business. For example, a young entrepreneur is more excited than an established business owner who may be looking at succession, some way of exiting the business, or retirement. This is consistent in both good and bad times. Despite current economic challenges and uncertainty, small-business owners remain optimistic about the next 12 months and the majority of small businesses witnessed increased revenue in fiscal years 2022 and 2023. More than half of the entrepreneurs have plans to expand their businesses, and existing small-business revenue forecasts are at an all-time high.

What industries most commonly make use of SBA lending?

Almost all small businesses can use the SBA loan products. It is easier to say which industries can’t use SBA because they are ineligible. Any business of a prurient nature, involving gambling, or the lending of money is ineligible. Arkansas is different than many other states in that there is a great deal of agriculture and animal processing. With that said, for the last five years, the most common industries using SBA loans by dollar volume are broilers and other meat types, hotels, chicken egg production, limited-service restaurants, and full-service restaurants.

What is a good leadership lesson you learned that still helps you today?

One important leadership lesson I have learned is the importance of empathy. Understanding that my team members have diverse experiences and perspectives which they bring into work impacts my leadership style. It has helped me to develop into a leader who is interested in building strong team relationships through collaboration and inclusivity.

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