An attorney by training, Victor Parker’s heart is in the world of small business.
He spent more than a decade at a biomedical manufacturer working on regulatory issues and government relations and later worked for an intellectual property law firm helping get new companies off the ground.
When I caught up with him by phone on Jan. 10, Parker was celebrating 75 days on the job as head of the Los Angeles District Office of the U.S. Small Business Administration.
As district director, Parker oversees SBA-guaranteed lending and other small business support programs for Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. The L.A. District is the largest in the country in dollar volume of SBA-guaranteed financings, and Parker took over from a series of interim directors following the retirement of longtime chief Alberto Alvarado.
He said his top priority is to reach out to the thousands of small business owners across his district and get a better feel for the problems they face. “We’re trying to open up the L.A. District office so that we are engaging small-business owners themselves,” he told me, adding that he plans to be at a Santa Barbara event on January 26.
The L.A. District office logged a nation-leading $1.5 billion in guaranteed lending last year but its average loan amount of around $600,000 means that financings were skewed toward the larger end of the range.
The administration doesn’t make loans, but it does provide guarantees to banks that make loans under SBA programs. SBA definitions of small businesses vary by industry but most companies with fewer than 500 employees and revenue below $20 million per year would meet the size standard.
Parker told me he sees a need to reach the smallest of small businesses. That could be particularly true in light of Bank of America’s widely publicized decision to limit or withdraw credit lines to small-business borrowers.
“We’ve got to find a way to get smaller loans — micro-loans — to small businesses,” he said. “We’re seeing a lot of people who were laid off trying to start out on their own,” he said, adding that he thinks there’s a need for bridge capital to help “finance new orders under $100,000.”
Another priority is service for veterans. Parker said that with the winding down of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, “in the last 30 days, we’ve seen a number of veterans trying to get businesses started after coming home.”
He said that in addition to help with financing and writing business plans, veterans need help with marketing, using social media and being tech savvy. Along with outreach events, he’s going to use the training room at the L.A. District Office in Burbank to host veterans training.
Overall, he said his initial visits with small business owners have hit a cautiously upbeat note. “There are still some challenges. But small businesses that have been in survival mode are beginning to see some hope on the horizon,” said Parker, who got his undergraduate degree at UC Berkeley and went to law school at Pepperdine.
“Their entrepreneurial spirit has driven them to a place where they can actually grow their business,” he said. “They are asking, ‘What can I do to market? To reinvent myself to increase my business?’ They are looking for additional opportunities within their market niche, whether that is reorienting their websites or engaging in social media. People don’t realize how important social media can be.”
Also on the agenda is a series of export events trying to link small businesses to the opportunities presented by the Pacific Rim and proximity to the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. And he’s going to make an effort to convince manufacturers to bring back jobs that were shipped offshore during the past decade.
And finally there’s outreach to the city of Los Angeles which, in my view, has lost a lot of the enthusiasm for small business that was a hallmark of the administration of former Mayor Richard Riordan.
Parker, 45, is a water sports and fishing enthusiast, who admitted the job has been all-consuming. After years in the private sector, he’s still getting a feel for “the government part” of small business. But he said he appreciates the importance of his role, adding “now that we are on the road to recovery the importance of small business is being recognized.”
Small business owners can reach Victor Parker directly via email at [email protected] SBA staff will be on hand to answer questions from small business owners and brief lenders at a program from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. at the Faulkner Library in downtown Santa Barbara on Jan. 26.
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