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Local lenders support small-biz loan initiative

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Small-business lenders in Indiana are supporting a proposal announced by President Obama that would increase the size of government-backed loans.

Under the plan announced Wednesday, loan amounts made through the U.S. Small Business Administration’s flagship 504 and 7(a) programs would increase to $5 million. Current maximums are $4 million for 504 loans and $2 million for 7(a) lending.

The initiative would be funded by the Troubled Asset Relief Program and would need to be approved by federal lawmakers.

“I think that increasing the caps on SBA lending is absolutely the way to go,” said Joe DeHaven, president and CEO of the Indiana Bankers Association. “It’s the correct way to spur small-business loans.”

The credit crunch has severely slowed lending activity, although most bankers contend that capital remains available to clients with a solid credit history. Still, the number of SBA-backed loans in Indiana dropped nearly 30 percent in fiscal 2009 from the previous year.

For the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, 1,035 loans totaling $266.8 million were made through the two SBA programs. That compares with 1,460 loans totaling $307 million in the previous fiscal year.

“We’re still cautious, but I think we are lending to credit-worthy borrowers,” said Scott Burns, vice president of SBA lending at the Indianapolis office of Pittsburgh-based PNC Financial Services Inc. “And you’ll see [lending] starting to step up over the next year.”

Burns thinks Indiana’s large manufacturing base could benefit most from the proposed increase, because a mid-size factory can’t purchase a lot of equipment with a $2 million loan.

The Washington, D.C.-based Independent Community Bankers of America issued a statement supporting the proposal, as did the National Association of Development Companies.

NADCO is the trade association for the nation’s certified development companies that make 504 loans. Jean Wojtowicz, director of the Indiana Statewide Certified Development Corp. in Indianapolis, is chairwoman of Virginia-based NADCO.

“Raising the ceiling on SBA 504 loans to $5 million is a big step toward bringing more job-creation money to Main Street,” Wojtowicz said.

504 loans typically are used to purchase land, buildings and equipment.

The SBA currently guarantees as much as 90 percent of loans it backs through approved financial institutions. The guarantee provides an incentive for banks to lend to small businesses that are more at risk of defaulting.

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