The numbers are good news.
Approvals for U.S. Small Business Association lending to African-American-owned businesses for the first four months of fiscal year 2018 have increased by 154 percent, while loan volume has increased by 40 percent.
That translates to 132 loans totaling $21 million in New Jersey anticipated this year, up from 85 loans totaling $17.8 million in 2017.
“It’s up, so we’re happy to see that,” SBA New Jersey District Director Al Titone said.
Titone, however, will be the first to tell you that not all the numbers are good.
For starters, a recent survey showed 60 percent of African-American business owners choose not to apply for financing because they do not think they will be approved.
And then there’s the number zero, as in the amount of money Titone’s SBA office is allowed to spend on advertising — because the SBA runs on federal dollars.
It’s a frustrating reality for Titone. While he’s confident he has the knowledge and the know-how to reach the African-American community, finding ways to get in front of potential applicants remains his toughest job.
“A lot of what we do is word of mouth,” he said. “We go to different groups, such as other development agencies and chambers of commerce. We try to get on panels, we hold our own on occasion, but we find it’s better to work with partners.”
Titone says some requests come in. And that he would love more.
“We’re hoping others will reach out to us, so we can do presentations,” he said. “We’ll do as many as our schedules allow. The biggest problem for us is always getting the word out.”
The presentations, he said, do wonders.
His goal is to inform members of diversity communities how the system works.
“A big part of what we do it is education,” he said. “We talk about credit in general. What it is, how it affects you, the kind of things that affect credit and the things that are available to you through the SBA and our other partners.
“We are really concentrating on our SBA lender match program and our Business Smart program, which I think doesn’t get enough publicity. You can get it on SBA.gov and download it, and it covers credit, things to do when you go to a bank.
“I think one of the biggest things we see in the African-American and also the Hispanic communities is a lack of understanding about credit. That is part of what we try to address.”
Titone says targeting those communities helps. As does the state of the economy in general.
He knows, however, the one simple secret: “Obviously, there is a lot more to do.”