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Small businesses brace for government shutdown

Published October 3, 2013 8:28 pm

Small businesses concerned prolonged impasse could hamper sales and hurt their ability to borrow from banks.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Betsy Burton doesn't work for the federal government, but she's still nervous about how the government shutdown is going to affect her Salt Lake City bookstore and other small businesses.

Her concern illustrates the kind of ripple effect the shutdown of federal offices could have on those who have nothing to do with government.

She's not only afraid that it will affect consumer confidence, and therefore sales, but she's also worried it will be tougher for small businesses to get more money from banks whose loans are processed by the federal government.

"Either way, small businesses are hurt," said Burton, who owns The King's English Bookshop in Salt Lake City. "It will be a lot harder to get access to capital right now, which is what we need to keep going this time of year."

The U.S. Small Business Administration's processing offices, which process small business loans, are currently closed, according to two lending institutions. That means that any SBA loans submitted after Oct. 1 will go into a waiting queue.

"There is some SBA processing that has to occur that could be slowed," said Mike Holt, vice president and brand manager of Brighton Bank. "The extent or how severe it will be, I'm not sure."

But Holt said businesses shouldn't have to worry if they need to borrow more money because banks' ability to lend has more to do with the strength of the borrower than the current economic conditions.

"As a banker, I'm really looking at the trends, at what they [the borrowers] do in the future to repay our debt," he said. "Yes, there may be a dip in the economy [as a result of the shutdown], but most banks won't have a knee-jerk reaction to that."

Blake Weathers, vice president of business services for America First Credit Union, said his bank will find creative ways to make sure small businesses get the money they need.

"In order to grow, you need assets, and in order to have assets you need capital," he said. "If you're starting a business, it's going to take longer [to get a loan]. But there are possibilities to work around in the interim. We don't want to leave our member hanging if we can help it."

One very real impact from an extended shutdown is how it will affect overall consumer spending. And it's all happening at the worst time of the year — when consumers are about to gear up for holiday sales. Fourth-quarter sales are the most important for any retailer because holiday sales can represent 20 to 40 percent of their total annual revenue, according to the National Retail Federation.

"[The shutdown] causes a crisis in consumer confidence, which creates a crisis in capital flow," said Nan Seymour, executive director of Local First Utah, which supports independent small businesses in the state.

Jason Mathis, executive director the Salt Lake City Downtown Alliance, said the impact of the government shutdown may not be immediate, but in the long term, the damage could be profound.

"It's not just the economic impact of the [furloughed federal] employees themselves, but it's all the things they do to support the economy," he said. "A short-term shutdown is probably something that people can get over, but a long-term shutdown will have the potential to push us back into a recession."

Steven Rosenberg, owner of the Liberty Heights Fresh grocery market in Salt Lake City, also fears this could affect his sales.

"When part of my customer base is unable to shop with me, that will have a direct impact. When the American people don't have confidence in the economy they don't spend money," he said. "There's a residual effect. If the government shuts down for a couple of weeks, it will affect us for several months. And this time is our bread and butter in the business. It's very frightening."

vince@sltrib.com

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