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Sunday, May 14, 2006 

Minorities, women starting more businesses in the V.I.
Saturday, May 13th 2006

ST. THOMAS - The number of people in the Virgin Islands getting small business loans to launch their entrepreneurial dreams skyrocketed last year.

The Small Business Administration approved 51 loans - totaling $4.5 million - between October 2004 and September 2005.

The number of loans increased nearly 300 percent, when compared to the 13 loans - totaling $3.8 million - that the SBA reported in Fiscal Year 2004, said Carl Christensen, officer in charge of the U.S. Small Business Administration's office in the Virgin Islands.

"While we've always had Virgin Islanders getting into business, we now have much more female and more young people getting into business," he said.

Christensen said there is a growing trend of people leaving government service to start their own businesses.

Much of the capital being sought last year at the SBA tended to be on the lower scale, ranging from $5,000 to $50,000.

Getting a micro loan is much easier than it was 20 years ago, said William Manger Jr., SBA's regional administrator.
Manger said entrepreneurs can now apply for start-up capital up to $50,000 using just their personal credit history.

The SBA has also centralized its loan processing divisions instead of handling applications at each SBA location.
"What used to take weeks now takes days," Manger said.

The Government Development Bank, which is under the V.I. Economic Development Authority, also reported higher demand for financing in its micro- and small-business loan programs last year.

The bank approved 49 loans - $1.14 million - during its Fiscal Year 2005 that ended Sept. 30.
The number of approved loans increased from 16 loans - $245,000 - during the same time in 2004.

"We are seeing high demand for loans," bank director Wayne Biggs said.
Non-whites and women counted for the sharp increase in applications for the SBA loans last year.

SBA loans in Fiscal Year 2005 went to 39 minorities, 22 women and 12 whites.
In comparison, during Fiscal Year 2004 the agency made loans to 10 minorities, three women and three whites.

The high demand for start-up cash territorywide also mirrors findings in several federal studies released this year showing that minority and women-owned businesses are on the rise.

On the mainland, black entrepreneurs owned 1.2 million businesses in 2002, an increase of 45 percent from 1997, according to a U.S. Census Bureau report.

The report released in April is one of three studies done by the Census Bureau showing that the number of businesses owned by blacks, Hispanics and women are increasing.

"There is no doubt about it, minorities are getting more loans to start more businesses," said Warren Bush, state director for the University of the Virgin Islands Small Business Development Center.

The center provides a wide array of services for the territory's businesses, including training workshops, assistance with marketing, development of business plans, inventory control and education on how to get financing.

Bush said that during the past several years, micro loans have become increasingly more accessible and easier to get, which has opened the door to more minorities establishing their own companies.

St. Thomas resident Ken Webster said a small business loan he received last year was vital in launching his business, Complete Network Solutions.

The company - which has two employees - provides telecommunication installation and business networking consultations.

He said he plans to open a second office on St. Croix in the near future.
"After 16 years of working for someone else, I saw an opportunity and I made it happen," he said. "Starting up takes a lot of money to get off the ground."

- Contact Tim Fields at 774-8772 ext. 364 or e-mail tfields@dailynews.vi

© 2005, Virgin Islands Daily News

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