Utah is the most pro-small business state in the country
Small businesses in Utah will soon have the opportunity to access capital through the state’s new State Small Business Credit Initiative (SSBCI) program. And for women thinking of starting a new business, be on the lookout for the state’s upcoming 1,000 New Women-Owned Businesses initiative.
With this kind of support, money, and opportunity, Utah is certainly one of the most pro-small business states in the country.
The Governor’s Office of Economic Opportunity (Go Utah) announced the launch of the SSBCI in June. With funds authorized by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, the state is anticipated to receive $69 million over 10 years through SSBCI.
By the end of 2022, small businesses will be able to apply for SSBCI loans with participating local lenders. If you’re a small business with fewer than 10 employees, they’re earmarking $4.1 million of these funds for companies like yours. And for businesses owned by “socially or economically disadvantaged individuals,” they’re allocating $8.3 million.
“The SSBCI is a program designed to expand access to capital for small businesses, build ecosystems of opportunity and entrepreneurship, and create high-quality jobs,” says Alecia Hart, strategic program manager for the SSBCI and 1,000 New Women-Owned Businesses initiative.
Hart explains that these are federal dollars coming into Utah to support small businesses. “It provides a guarantee for [the financial institutions] so they can expand and give loans to small businesses who really need capital to expand their businesses, who may not have received it otherwise,” she says. “We’re excited about this program because it’s a long-term economic development program that strengthens the traditional credit options and improves their products for small businesses.”
This is not a grant or a handout in any way, Hart says. “Because it’s a loan, it helps small businesses become self-reliant. It helps them get the capital they need to grow, but it does still require them to follow the terms of a traditional loan. The program invests in the structures that exist, and it helps us build our capital access options now and through the next 10 years.”
SSBCI funds are anticipated to be available by the end of 2022. In the meantime, Hart says she and her team are working on building their outreach plan to ensure the program is equitably distributed. She recommends that those who are interested go to the SSBCI website, sign up for the newsletter, and join the waitlist when it’s available.
Once the program is in motion, Hart says her team will work to expand awareness and access to the SSBCI loans through social media channels and partner organizations’ newsletters. They’ll also share success stories, making sure to be inclusive of diverse representation “so people can see themselves in the program,” she says.
More good news for budding female entrepreneurs in the Beehive State is the 1,000 New Women-Owned Businesses initiative. While this campaign is still in its early stages, it will essentially support female entrepreneurs in accessing the education, mentorship, and resources they need to develop their business from inception to profitability.
“We’re working with Dr. [Susan] Madsen at the Utah Women & Leadership Project (UWLP),” Hart says. “They’re an incredible organization. Dr. Madsen has done a lot of research on how we can make Utah a leader in women’s equality.”
Dr. Madsen’s research was presented in a recent UWLP report titled, “Utah Gender Wage Gap: A 2021 Update.” The report provides a deep dive into HubWallet’s 2021 release of “The Best and Worst States for Women,” where Utah ranked dead last (and not for the first time).
This report provides insights into the challenges Utah faces in increasing its gender equality, as well as specific recommendations for making improvements. Among those recommendations is “add 1,000 additional women-owned businesses in Utah.”
The Women’s Business Center of Utah (WBCU) is one of Go Utah’s partners in developing the initiative. Ann Marie Wallace, WBCU state director, says the initiative’s goal is not only to help launch new women-owned businesses but to help women-owned businesses become profitable enough to hire their first employee. When comparing men-owned businesses to women-owned businesses in Utah, the former tends to make its first hire earlier than the latter, Wallace says.
“All those amazing women entrepreneurs who are wearing all the hats by themselves, we want to help them grow their business so they can hire an employee,” she continues. “This is so needed in our state. We want to be part of helping women learn how to be better business owners, effective, and profitable so they can get to that first employee—not just to appear on rankings, but to be a part of the economy on a bigger scale. They’re already an important part, but they’re not in parity with their male counterparts.”
Wallace explains the initiative will focus on education, outreach, support, and tracking to measure its success in increasing the number of women-owned businesses that reach that first employee threshold.
The initiative will also raise awareness for valuable resources that are already available to new entrepreneurs, Wallace says, many of which provide free or low-cost services exclusively for women business owners. These resources include the WBCU, ShePlace, Utah Valley University’s WE LIFT, Venture Capital’s WeROC, the National Association of Women Business Owners Salt Lake City, and others. She adds that other organizations help men- and women-owned businesses alike, including the Suazo Business Center, Utah’s Small Business Development Center, and SCORE Utah.
With Utah ranked #1 for the best economic outlook and #2 for best economy, among many other accolades, it’s affirming to see that Go Utah is also prioritizing small businesses and underrepresented business owners’ growth.
“Utah is passionate about helping small businesses,” Hart says. “I’ve been impressed with Gov. Cox’s administration, with the current leadership and the directions they’re going for small businesses. One thing they’re pushing for is looking to improve not just economic opportunity but also quality of life, which is an amazing addition to that. That’s an exciting shift.”