U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper on Thursday introduced four bills aimed at increasing small business access to federal programs that boost investments and federal dollars to help companies grow.
The Colorado Democrat's maiden batch of legislation would make it easier for people, communities and businesses that face barriers to investments and loans to get more help from the Small Business Administration, the former brewpub owner said.
“Running a small business is tough. It’s tougher when federal resources overwhelmingly go to a select group of people, businesses, and places,” Hickenlooper said in a statement. “We must break down barriers that diverse businesses and businesspeople face and that’s exactly what these bills do.”
The legislation hearkens back to Hickenlooper's beginnings as a small business owner in Denver's Lower Downtown neighborhood more than 30 years ago, when the out-of-work geologist raised money from family and friends and approached dozens of banks before scoring a loan to launch the Wynkoop Brewing Co.
Two of the bills have bipartisan sponsors in the Senate, and all four get a leg up out of the gate with the freshman senator's seat on the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship.
The bills would make it easier for women and minorities to become investment managers under an SBA program designed to improve access to funds for small businesses; beef up SBA support for Native American-owned businesses and entrepreneurs; give customer-owned co-ops more access to SBA loans; and increase how much money small businesses can borrow to make energy-efficient investments.
The MicroCapSBIC Designation bill, sponsored with Idaho Republican Sen. Jim Risch, would create an entry-level license for investment managers within an existing SBA program in an effort to spur investment in rural and other under-served communities.
In order to qualify for the licenses, managers would need to demonstrate expertise and a track record of business management, rather than have experience managing investment funds, as is currently required to participate in the program.
Funds licensed under the new program would have to invest at least half their money in smaller businesses, with a quarter of their funds going to communities and business sectors that don't have easy access to capital.
The SBA Office of Native American Affairs Enhancement and Modernization Act, sponsored with Wyoming Republican Sen. Cynthia Lummis, would double funds for the SBA office devoted to Native American businesses and establish an administrative position to steer its efforts.
The Capital for Cooperatives Act would change current law to allow the 30,000 businesses organized as cooperatives access to the SBA's main loan program, which they can't do now because each co-op's many individual owners can't provide a personal guarantee for the loan.
Under the bill, the SBA could consider the co-op's equity, cash flow and profitability to determine its ability to repay a loan.
The Green Energy Loan Enhancement Act would nearly double the loan amounts available to businesses for upgrading their energy efficiency, from $5.5 million to $10 million.
The SBA's long-term, fixed-rate expansion loan program currently lets businesses looking to make renewable and other energy-efficiency investments qualify for an additional $500,000. In order to be eligible for the higher cap, projects would have to reduce the business's energy consumption by at least 10% or generate more than 15% of the energy used at a facility.
Kristi Burton Brown, the chairman of the Colorado Republican Party, greeted Hickenlooper's initial legislation by reviving a comment Hickenlooper made before he switched from his presidential campaign to last year's Senate race.
“Well it’s about time," Burton Brown told Colorado Politics. "The only thing Hickenlooper has done since becoming a senator is prove that he is, in fact, ‘not cut out to be a senator.’ ”