With cheers for small business, top federal official tours successful Utah companies

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Mark Medura, left, owner of Level Crossing Brewing Company in South Salt Lake, shows off his beer selections to Christopher Pilkerton, acting head of the U.S. Small Business Administration, second from right, and regional administrator Dan Nordberg during a tour of the brewery on Thursday, May 9, 2019. Pilkerton and advocate for the nationÕs 30 million small businesses was in Utah to celebrate National Small Business Week.

Considered a crucial cog in the U.S. economy, Utah’s small businesses got some love Wednesday from the head of a federal agency known for loaning them money.

Chris Pilkerton, acting administrator and general counsel of the Small Business Administration, swung through to visit several new businesses started with its help, including a craft brewery, a marketing firm and the state’s first commercial sand court volleyball venue.

His tour is part of National Small Business Week, highlighting the country’s 30 million or so small businesses, which in Utah employ nearly 575,000 people, or about 46% of the state’s total non-government workforce.

“The whole idea behind small businesses is that they are a rising tide not only for the entrepreneur but a rising tide for the whole community,” said Pilkerton, who assumed the SBA’s top post three weeks ago.

The SBA specializes in helping businesses with capital, contracts and counseling, including robust programs for business loan guarantees, disaster assistance and micro-lending. The agency has field offices in all 50 states.

In fiscal year 2018, SBA approved business loans worth at least $5 billion, according to agency reports.

Level Crossing Brewing Company in South Salt Lake relied on SBA financial assistance and advice to get its craft microbrewery off the ground and open a trendy, wood-paneled tap room with 90 seats at 2496 S. West Temple, according to owner Mark Medura.

The microbrewery’s customer base is now growing, it’s poised to launch new marketing campaigns and Medura and staff are preparing to serve their craft brews at a series of summer festivals. Chris Detrick, head brewer and a former Salt Lake Tribune photographer, was busy Wednesday canning some of Level Crossing’s first batches of pale ale.

“It’s just a fabulous program,” Medura said of the SBA. “It has allowed us to see my dream and my vision.” The microbrewery expects to employ 15 to 30 people in the coming years, he said, “I’m very proud that we are contributing to the local economy.”

Officials capped their brewery tour by tasting several of Level Crossing’s choice craft beers. “You have an awesome place here,” Pilkerton said in a toast to Medura.

“We’re very proud,” the brewery owner replied.

In an interview, Pilkerton said Utah’s business-friendly tax and regulatory policies made the state one of the best in the country for new startups. And prevailing U.S. economic conditions are “great” for small business now, the administrator said, with firms able to invest more money, record numbers of jobs being created and unemployment at new lows.

At an afternoon luncheon at Utah Museum of Fine Arts in Salt Lake City, Pilkerton and his entourage honored Vivien and Fernanda Böhme, co-founders of Böhme, a line of women’s apparel and accessories now sold in 16 specialty outlets across the Midwest.

The Böhme sisters, originally from Brazil, are Utah’s winners of the SBA’s 2019 Small Business Person of the Year award.

SBA officials were set to tour a Centerville company called Interform, founded in 1986 and now one of Utah’s largest promotional and branding companies, with a full range of printing and other services.

The entourage also gave a nod to The Sandbar, a facility in North Salt Lake billed as Utah’s first indoor-outdoor sand court volleyball venue. Open to players of all skill levels and offering year-round play for leagues and tournaments, The Sandbar also has a full restaurant and beer bar.