Al Jones

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:57

SBA honors best of the best

I’ve been privileged to observed and evaluate award-winning businesses in other regions of the Small Business Administration, where the competition was keen, and I can tell you beyond a shadow of a doubt that the award-winning small businesses of western Pennsylvania are second to none.

There were more than 60 nominees in the 1999 SBA Small Business Awards categories, and all could have placed first or second in all other regions. To choose the best from among the best is not an easy task. I commend all of the judges for their excellent work in selecting the award winners for this year.

Special thanks is extended to the “smart” working sponsors who produced two national winners, six regional winners, 10 state winners and 14 western Pennsylvania winners. Included among the national winners is Dalph McNeil, recipient of the Phoenix Award for Disaster Recovery, who brought his company back from a devastating national disaster to a financially sound operation without loss of jobs.

Enough cannot be said about the Western Pennsylvania Small Business Network, which starts preparing a year in advance and demonstrates the highest degree of teamwork to assemble in all its splendor the finest annual small business awards luncheon, sponsors and winners anywhere.

How do you give sufficient thanks to our resource partners and advisory council members who graciously provide help and counsel to the Pittsburgh office and SBA every year. Because of its efforts, SBA reached a record-level year in marketing and outreach that generated 604 guaranteed loans worth $77,032,717 for the small business community.

In addition, the staff at the Western Pennsylvania SBA office was presented the “Best of the Best” Special Achievement Award for four major categories, including Economic Development Tour 1998; the Lenders Internship Program; Lenders Quality Circle conference at Seven Springs Ski Resort; and the Small Business Awards luncheon, which has become the finest of its kind.

Finally, thanks to our media resource partners who have played a major role in “putting a face” on SBA in western Pennsylvania. We are serious about service.

Al Jones is district director for the SBA.

A year into the process - as Pennsylvania becomes one of the first states in the nation to tackle the complexities of electric competition after decades of reasonably routine regulation - "What's next?" is a question, no doubt, on the minds of many business owners.

That goes especially for small businesses that may not have the wherewithal to hire lawyers and accountants and other consultants to guide them through the new process as it slowly emerges, and changes, sometimes almost daily.

But at this stage of the process, "What's next?" is a tough question to answer.

We do know one thing: In January, 1999, at least one-third of all retail electric customers in Pennsylvania-and possibly two-thirds-should be able to choose their electric-generation supply from one of more than 30 companies licensed to sell kilowatt-hours in the Commonwealth.

And by January 2001 - possibly by January 2000 - competition and customer choice, barring protracted legal challenges or legislative review, should be a reality for all retail customers, from individuals and small businesses to large industrial complexes.

What we don't know yet for sure is the outcome of all state-mandated rate-restructuring cases involving all eight Pennsylvania electric utilities, under the jurisdiction of the Public Utility Commission, that will basically determine "What's next?"

In PECO Energy's case, for instance, the company reached a settlement agreement after extensive negotiations with a wide-ranging group of consumer representatives, including the Commonwealth's Office of Consumer Advocate and Small Business Advocate and a coalition of industries.

So what's next? The agreement guaranteed all customers in PECO Energy's service territory, residential and commercial, a 7 percent to 10 percent rate decrease on Sept. 1, as well as rate caps for an additional 10 years.

The PUC, however, by a 3-2 vote, rejected the agreement, known as the Pennsylvania Plan, and instead imposed on PECO Energy a restructuring order of its own.

The order guaranteed no rate reductions for anyone, but projected that customers, through carefully shopping for low rates among the many electric suppliers brought to the state by competition, could eventually save up to 15 percent on their yearly electric bills. Yet, those who decline to shop get no rate reduction at all.

Consumer groups such as the Consumers Education and Protective Association in Philadelphia strenuously objected, saying that, while large, out-of-state sellers and marketers of electricity were guaranteed substantial profits by the PUC action, Pennsylvania consumers were guaranteed absolutely nothing.

CEPA pointed out that, in every other state involved in electric deregulation, consumers were guaranteed a rate reduction.

PECO Energy filed challenges to the order in both state and federal courts.

So what's next? At least for now, the PUC has scheduled talks among all parties to the PECO Energy case, in an effort to settle the legal issues and move the deregulation process forward. Barring a settlement, the case goes first to Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court and then, possibly, to the U.S. District Court for resolution.

That resolution could take months, or years, unlike the Pennsylvania Plan which, if approved by the PUC, would have been implemented in September.

However, whenever competition and customer choice actually is implemented in Pennsylvania-and it ultimately will be-small businesses should be considering several strategies:

One is to carefully follow the implementation process, in the media, through publications like this one, and through communications from potential electric suppliers. If you haven't already, eventually you will have to make a choice, and given the more knowledge you compile before doing so, the better choice you can make.

Another is that you will be able to band together with other small businesses-known as aggregation-to negotiate electric-supply rates with electric companies or marketers (see related article in this section).

It all still may seem pretty confusing-and unless you deal with it every day, it is-but remember, it's not going to happen all at once, overnight. Telephone deregulation is in about its 10th year now, and it's still changing. You are still being presented with more and more choices as technology evolves and improves.

The implementation of electric deregulation probably will be somewhat the same. One local retailer probably says it best, in that, as the process evolves, an educated consumer is the best consumer.

J. William Jones is manager of media relations at PECO Energy Co.

Tuesday, 29 April 2003 05:27

Extending the reach

"One of the things I strongly believe is that the role of government is not to create wealth. The role of government is to create an environment in which people are willing to take risk, an environment in which people are willing to risk capital, an environment that heralds the entrepreneur and the small business person. That's the role of government."

- President George W. Bush

Congratulations to all the SBA small business owners and advocate award winners for 2003. Those who were nominated and those who won are prime examples of the private sector's unique ability to create wealth.

We thank the sponsors for nominating such outstanding individuals. This year is more important than ever, because it is the SBA's 50th anniversary, celebrating a half century of providing assistance to small business owners through quality financial, management, minority, procurement and advocacy programs.

Since 1953, the SBA has been helping businesses thrive. As it approaches its 50th anniversary in service to American entrepreneurs, we are more determined than ever to keep the American Dream alive.

President Bush, SBA Administrator Hector Barreto and Regional Administrator Allegra McCullough have directed the SBA to reach out and serve all 25 million small businesses in America. To do that, we are changing the way we think about government and the people we serve.

Our goal is to be a proficient government agency that focuses on customer satisfaction by streamlining services to small businesses. We're implementing innovative approaches to reach a greater number of small businesses by promoting access to capital, particularly to those historically underserved by traditional credit markets. We're also increasing training, education and information assistance to small businesses on a 24/7 basis, while maximizing our resource partner networks.

We need to increase the number of small firms owned and operated by women, minorities, low- and moderate-income rural and urban small companies, veterans and persons with disabilities. Part of our effort is reflected in the Small Business Week Luncheon program May 23, where we will honor outstanding small business owners and advocates in Western Pennsylvania.

Events like this will be held throughout the nation, culminating in a National Small Business Week celebration in Washington, D.C., Sept. 15-20.

As district director, my main goal is to make sure small businesses in Western Pennsylvania know about the SBA and the services it provides. We make a massive effort to reach small businesses in each of our 27 counties each year.

Last year, we helped 1,702 small businesses in Western Pennsylvania obtain $157 million in financing through our loan guaranty and microloan programs. The Western Pennsylvania District Office had a terrific lending year in 2002, but fiscal year 2003 will be even better for the businesses we serve.

I am working with our lenders and resource partners to develop and refine strategic plans to reach even more small businesses.We have aggressive marketing and outreach goals, especially in rural areas.

I've also encouraged our office to emphasize international trade opportunities for small businesses.

This is an exciting time at the SBA, a time of change. We're not the SBA we were 50 years ago. We're better, much better.

We were named the top office in the country in fiscal year 2002. We plan on exceeding our goals this year and our overall service to the small business community of Western Pennsylvania

If you've ever thought about going into business for yourself, learn how the SBA can assist you. Call (412) 395-6560 or visiting www.sba.gov to discover how SBA can help you.