By, MICHAEL GOOT May 3, 2019

GLENS FALLS — The U.S. government purchases a half-trillion dollars of goods and services every year.

About 24 percent of that, $130 billion, went to small businesses across the country last year, according to Small Business Administration Regional Administrator Steve Bulger.

Bulger said the federal government bids for everything including landscaping services, janitorial work, uniform supply and food service.

“The SBA can help small businesses learn how to apply and go after those federal contracts,” he said Friday at an Adirondack Regional Chamber of Commerce luncheon at The Park Theater.

About 75 business officials attended the panel discussion, which also featured U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, and SBA Syracuse District Director Bernard Paprocki. The event was timed for the start of National Small Business Week.

Bulger said the government by law is required to award at least 23 percent of the contracts to small businesses, generally defined as having fewer than 500 employees, so federal officials are doing better than that.

For more information, people should visitwww.sam.govto see contracts andwww.fedbizops.comto register their business.

Bulger explained that the SBA does not lend any money directly, but rather it partners with banks to back loans.

Paprocki said SBA’s role is to mitigate risk.

“If a lender needs a little more support on any given transaction, that’s when we step in,” he said.

Bulger said the number of loans guaranteed by the SBA has actually fallen as the economy has improved.

“Because balance sheets are improving for small businesses and access to credit is improving, lenders are saying, we don’t need to go through the SBA, we’ll make the loan to you directly,” he said.

Last year, the SBA guaranteed about $30 billion in loans.

The agency charges a fee when a business takes on an SBA-backed loan, Paprocki said. The fees accumulate into a fund, which is used to cover any defaults.

Bulger said the SBA has guaranteed 700 small business loans worth a total of $170 million in the NY-21 Congressional District since 2015.

“That has helped support thousands of jobs,” he said.

The SBA also helps businesses recover after disasters, such as the flooding from Tropical Storm Irene that hit the area, by providing low-interest loans, according to Bulger.

“Next to FEMA, SBA has the second largest footprint in the entire federal government for disaster response,” he said.

Bulger said the economy is booming with over a quarter-million new jobs created last month, and unemployment has fallen to a 50-year low at 3.6 percent. Wages are rising.

The one negative is the high taxes in the state, according to Bulger. Friday was “Tax Freedom Day” in New York, meaning that the amount of money people have earned up to this point in the year is going to the government in federal, state and local taxes.

“Unfortunately, we’re the last state to have Tax Freedom Day. We’re 50th. In fact, we’re the only state in which Tax Freedom Day is occurring in the month of May,” he said.

Most states have their day in April and some in March.

In her brief remarks, Stefanik highlighted a few initiatives she is working on, including legislation to permit creation of associated health plans, which would allow small businesses to band together to purchase health care in order to lower costs. She also wants to pass the updated U.S.-Canada-Mexico Trade Agreement.

Stefanik said Congress has tried to increase funding for Small Business Centers.

She said the biggest challenge she hears from companies involves finding skilled labor, adding that the local community has done a good job partnering with high school, community colleges and the local BOCES to develop a pipeline of workers.

Lake George Regional Chamber of Commerce President Gina Mintzer asked a question of Stefanik about the visa programs, which are crucial to finding employees in a tourism-based economy.

Stefanik said she believes that the cap should be lifted on the number of J-1 visas, which are used by international students to come and work in Lake George and other areas for the season. She would also like to streamline the process to make it easier to reapply from one season to the next.

She is also working to create an agricultural visa program. Seasonal businesses such as apple orchards and year-round businesses like dairy farms need a reliable supply of workers, she said.

Stefanik acknowledged that it is difficult to pass this as part of immigration reform in a divided political climate.

“It’s going to take agricultural districts and members on both sides of the aisle to step up and get that done,” she said.

She said she is also working with U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., on trying to find federal funding for the project to upgrade the Lake George wastewater treatment plant.

Bulger said if people have a dream and the passion to start a business, they should seek out the help of the SBA.

“A lot of people have a great idea. They’re experts on that price, but they don’t know about all the other components that go into starting even the smallest business, with rules and regulations and financing and all the stuff that you have to worry about,” he said.

Also at the luncheon, the SBA announced that the Small Business Person of the Year Award is being given to Druthers Brewing Co. of Saratoga Springs.

Druthers and 17 other businesses will be recognized at a luncheon later this year.

Chamber President Michael Bittel said about 82 percent of its members have 10 employees or less.

“It’s amazing the impact that the small businesses have on the larger businesses,” he said.

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