Finding financial help when it’s needed most

While many smaller carriers did not survive the Great Recession, more did. And those carriers are now in position to take advantage of the ever-tightening capacity crunch that, by all accounts, will continue for the foreseeable future. If only they had the resources.

One of the changes that occurred due to the recession was a tightening of the credit markets – particularly a crackdown by banks on who can borrow money and the hoops they must jump through to get approved for loans. This has hurt all small businesses in the U.S., not just trucking companies, that need access to capital for a variety of reasons – to grow their business, to pay employees during difficult times, to replace equipment, etc. And now that line of credit has dried up.

But all is not lost and there is plenty of help out there, if you just know where to look. Here in Connecticut, there is a small construction firm, 2 Cuzn’s Associates, that found just the help it needed and is now thriving because of it.

The company took advantage of a lending program offered through the Connecticut Economic Development Fund (CEDF), an organization that specializes in lending to “riskier” customers, the exact type of business that many banks will not touch these days. CEDF also provides counseling, business training, seminars, and more in ensuring that its clients not just survive, but thrive.

“We have to provide them with a very difference experience,” says Donna Wertenbach, president & CEO of CEDF. “We might stretch payments out to get the payments into an affordable level. Whereas a bank might only go five years, we can do 10.”

For Sonja Johnson, owner of 2 Cuzn’s, CEDF was just what the struggling firm needed.

“We found out about them through [a local business group]. I was working on my business plan with them and they told me about CEDF,” Johnson says. “I have taken advantage of some their trainings and classes, like Quickbooks. I think by working with CEDF, we’ll be able to thrive.”

Johnson, who launched her business in 2006, said she’s used the loan money to purchase equipment and hire new employees. “I just needed the resources to move the business forward,” she says. “I didn’t have the money or capital to do it on my own.”

CEDF is not unique in what it does – many states have similar organizations, and according to Tim Brady, an expert in trucking matters providing speaking and business coaching, training and educational presentations, it is a growing trend as state legislatures look to provide avenues for small business.

“There is a big push across many state legislatures [to develop programs],” Brady told me.

Brady, it should be noted, also writes the monthly Small Business Review column for Fleet Owner and is the Business Editor of Fleet Owner sister publication American Trucker.

“One of the things a lot of these non-profits do…is they are going to look at your business plan, [analyze] your business plan, and see [if there is a program that can help],” Brady adds.

So, what if you need help and a bank is unable or unwilling to work with you? There are several options available, but you need to be proactive. First, Brady advises checking with your banker. While the bank may not be able to assist you, it may be able to recommend options.

In the case of the CEDF, the majority of its clients come through bank referrals.

Second, Brady suggests checking with your local Small Business Development Center (SBDC). The SBDC is administered through the Small Business Administration. To find out more about the SBDC and find your local office, go to http://www.sba.gov/content/small-business-development-centers-sbdcs.

Also, check with your local Chamber of Commerce or county, city or town economic development offices as they all may be able to provide leads for you.

“It goes with the old adage, if you don’t ask, you won’t receive,” Brady says. “The one thing an entrepreneur trucker needs to be is assertive.”

“What we do is, you come to us and tell us your story; tell us what you need, and we’ll work with you,” CEDF’s Wertenbach adds. “Don’t count yourself out; call and ask, because the world has changed. There is probably a lot more opportunity out there than you think.”

Perhaps the best advice of all.

If anyone has specific organizations or groups that you've used over the years and would like to pass that information along to others, please leave the name, state, and website if possible, in the comments, and I'll post the information below this blog entry.

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