Q&A: Janita Stewart, district director, U.S. Small Business Administration

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Published: July 13,2009

Tags: Janita Stewart, U.S. Small Business Administration

Hope for small business

Stewart offers opinions and advice for small business owners

Small businesses are  feeling the squeeze from the current recession and need a boost.  One source of assistance is the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), which has recently enhanced a number of its programs and added new ones. The Mississippi Business Journal caught up with Janita Stewart, Mississippi district director for the SBA, and got her views on the issues facing small businesses.

Q —  What advice would you offer to small business owners ?

A —  Network – network – network.  Make as many contacts as you possibly can.  Sometimes opportunities come about merely as a result of contacts you’ve made.  Also, make full use of each and every single resource available to you.  In addition to SBA and its resource partners, there are a host of other resources available, including the Mississippi Development Authority, the Procurement Technical Assistance Centers, chambers of commerce and various economic development organizations.  Seek them out and utilize their services.  Also, don’t overlook opportunities to do business with the federal government.  The federal government is the largest buyer of goods and services in the world, to the tune of some $425 billion annually.  Even more contract spending is being done now due to the Recovery Act.

Q —  What types of small businesses are currently most profitable, and what types seem to be struggling more?

A —  I can tell you that the business industry that first comes to mind in terms of having an overall excellent track record of paying off SBA loans – the industry that has the lowest loan delinquency and default rate – is the poultry industry in Mississippi.  SBA has guaranteed millions and millions of dollars in loans banks have made to small poultry farmers.   As for struggling businesses – we’ve heard from those that do metal fabrication, restaurants, the furniture industry, dealerships and others seeking assistance to keep their doors open, their staff employed and looking for help to improve their cash flow situation.

Q —  What areas of the state show the most small business growth?

A — The most recent statistics provided as a result of research done by the SBA’s Office of Advocacy reflect that in combining small employer firms and self-employed persons, there are 216,700 small businesses in Mississippi.  Of all businesses in the state, about 98 percent are small.  Small businesses are the heart of the state’s economy, create most of the net new jobs and bring dynamic ideas, innovation and new products to the marketplace.  While not necessarily concentrated in a particular part of the state, the small business growth industries include construction, various non-professional services, retail trade, professional services, administrative, support, waste management and remediation services, real estate, healthcare and social assistance.

Q —  How is owning a small business in Mississippi better or worse than other areas of the United States?

A —  In 2008, Mississippi was ranked 17th in the nation as “most entrepreneur-friendly” by the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council (SBE Council).  The ranking, derived from the SBE Council’s “Small Business Survival Index,” is deemed the most comprehensive measure of the states in terms of which ones offer the most conducive environment for small businesses, and those that make it more difficult for entrepreneurs from a government-cost perspective.  Factors included in the index — taxes, various regulatory costs, government spending, property rights, healthcare and energy costs, to name a few — matter significantly to the competitiveness of each state and to the well being of the small business community.

Q —  With the current economy, what are some ways small business owners can draw customers into their doors?

A —  Be the best at what you do.  Know your competitors and capitalize on what they are lacking.  Reduce your overhead and eliminate unnecessary costs.  Advertise and market.  Provide or deliver your product or service in accordance with the specifications in a timely manner and within budget.  Word-of-mouth advertising from satisfied customers is free and can increase your business.  Take advantage of free help in marketing from resources including the SBDCs (Small Business Development Centers).  For businesses interested in obtaining contracts from the federal government and from large business prime contractors, register in CCR (Central Contractor Registration at www.ccr.gov), which is also free advertising.  Understand that the current status of the economy is only temporary, and is fully expected to recover and rebound.

Age: 52
Hometown: Vicksburg
Degree(s): B.S., University of Southern Mississippi
Clubs or societies participated in during college: Symphonic Wind Ensemble Bands, student government, International Trade Club, among others.
Favorite Food: Mississippi farm-raised catfish, salmon, rib-eye steak, Gulf shrimp
Favorite Movies: Comedies and dramas
Favorite Color: Purple
Favorite Music: Jazz

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