Saturday, July 24, 2010

Small businesses struggle despite federal money for lending

WASHINGTON — Carl Calhoun makes mattresses for a living, but lately he has been enduring more than his share of sleepless nights.
Calhoun, the president and CEO of the Body Rest Mattress Co. in St. Petersburg, Fla., and his wife, Emma, the vice president and chief financial officer, are struggling to keep their 28-year-old company from becoming another casualty of the Great Recession.

They've laid off half their employees. They've cut the hours and benefits of those who remained. They've even tapped their home equity to pump more money into the business.

Yet without a six-digit bank loan to see them through, the Calhouns and their 31 employees face a very uncertain future.

"We know what we're doing," Carl Calhoun said. "We just ran out of capital. It's only through the grace of God that we're here right now. And I'm not the only one."

He's right. Across the country, thousands of small-business owners are fighting for survival and hurting for cash after getting the cold shoulder from banks over loan requests.

The Troubled Asset Relief Program poured hundreds of billions of dollars into big banks to help spur business lending during the recession, but the cash infusion hasn't prevented thousands of companies from closing their doors as banks have tightened their credit standards and purse strings.

The Obama administration is pushing a $30 billion Small Business Lending Fund to address the problem. The proposal, which passed the House of Representatives in June, would provide smaller community banks with government loans that become cheaper as the banks lend more money to small businesses.

Todd McCracken, president of the National Small Business Association, said the plan should help.

"But it's not a silver bullet," he said. "There isn't a silver bullet."

Overall economy affected

Credit is essential for small businesses to expand their work forces, buy equipment and property, and cover operating costs. For much of the past decade, the nation's big banks were generous providers.

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Establishing a Lead TriadFairs, seminars to help businesses with flood recovery