Providing a bridge between Omaha-area Nebraska entrepreneurs and the access to capital they need to make their dreams a reality, Enterprise Bank has been honored by the SBA as the Cornhusker State’s Small Lender of the Year for 2013.
The SBA recognizes one locally-owned and operated lender which dedicates its commercial lending operations to develop new business and through visionary leadership building relationships with its clients beyond its immediate financial needs.
The bank is proud of its impressive efforts providing the right community-level financing to small businesses, keeping and creating jobs, especially with veteran-owned small businesses. Thanks to an expanded use of SBA Express loan programs since 2010, Enterprise Bank has funded 25 loans for $9.8 million to small businesses through the 7(a) guarantee and 504 programs. The Express program in particular has been an efficient and effective way for Enterprise Bank to accommodate loan requests from small businesses needing quick responses.
In Fiscal Year 2012 alone, Enterprise Bank made nine SBA 7(a) guarantee loans for more than $4 million to firms seeking to refinance existing debt; help build new business; and helped boost the confidence of existing small business in economically underserved markets to expand operations and create new jobs.
Enterprise Bank, from its two locations in the West Omaha area, has enjoyed steady year-to-year growth in the number of SBA loans and the loan volume in its portfolio. The lender made a significant effort to expand its access to capital for small business three years ago, bringing aboard Katey Lenczowski, an expert in SBA lending with previous experience with Lincoln-based Nebraska Economic Development Corp. (NEDCO), named in 2010 as the nation’s top 504 Community Development Corporation. In that first year, the bank’s SBA loans grew from $700,000 to $3.9 million; by 2012, the bank booked and additional $5.2 million in SBA loans with another $4.8 million approved and in the process of funding, a remarkable achievement for a lender of its size.
Expanding access to capital to Omaha's underserved markets
Enterprise Bank also has developed a partnership with Davis Companies, other community lenders and private donors, known as the Eastern Omaha Collateral Guarantee Fund, to provide $500,000 for a five-year pool of short-term microloan funding to minority-owned contracting firms in an unfortunate region of the city plagued by consistent unemployment and only sporadic economic development, so these small firms, who do not qualify for conventional commercial loans, may successfully bid for contracts and perform the work. The owners of Davis Companies, Dick and Sharon Davis, understand business can be one of the most important tools for turning around a community. It's the way they have been looking at poverty and economic development in north Omaha for years, both as a backer of entrepreneurs through his own business and as a member of a long list of community organizations. They’ve helped several small-business owners—a barber, a radio DJ and a transportation company operator, among them—to launch their own ventures, along with helping to create scholarship and mentoring programs. The firm also has worked with Omaha, along with other cities around the country, on plans and rules related to minority contractors and small and emerging businesses.
In 2010, thanks to access to capital through the SBA, NEDCO and Enterprise Bank, the company relocated to a new million-dollar building across the street from Omaha’s TD Ameritrade Park, and the new home of the NCAA College World Series.
As a result of their outreach to improve the community and their own entrepreneurial success story, Lenczowski nominated Davis Companies for the SBA’s Minority Small Business Champion award, an honor the business subsequently went on to claim nationwide.
Helping small businesses grow and succeed key to nomination
Another example of the lender’s efforts to aid entrepreneurs: In 2011, John Carroll and Steven Watson decided to start their new law practice specializing in medical malpractice. As Carroll was an Air Force Veteran, Lenczowski knew the Patriot Express program would serve to provide the firm with a loan for $20,000 for computer equipment and a $330,000 line of credit. After 18 months, thanks to the start Enterprise Bank helped to provide, Carroll and Watson have won settlements large enough to retire their debt.
Then, in August of 2012, Enterprise turned to the 7(a) program to help William and Colleen Barstow, the owners of Main Street & Aksarben Cinema, who sought to bring their independently owned Nebraska-based chain of theaters to rapidly redeveloping Aksarben Village. While the new theater could serve as an anchor to draw in more development and residential activity, Aksarben Cinema found its access to capital blocked by a lack of collateral and a need for a high loan amount for a specific-use facility. The theater group initially financed the leasehold improvements and equipment through a mix of private investors, equipment leases and a small amount of bank financing. After their first 18 months of successful operations, the developer reached out to Enterprise Bank, and asked if the Aksarben theaters would qualify for SBA financing. As a result of the debt restructure using the SBA 7(a) guarantee program, the theater was able to save over $225,000 in annual debt service payments. The theater is consistently ranks in the top two for ticket sales in the Omaha Metro Area, competing against national theater chains.
Then there’s Aspen Athletics of Nebraska, and Tony Dahmen, who began working in the fitness industry at 19 in his hometown of Seattle. By 2000 he was ready to start his own business and purchased an old tennis club in Iowa for $400,000. After growing the business to locations in Oklahoma, he sold that venture, and teamed with another investor in fitness clubs in Texas. Nine years later, he tackled the Nebraska market with Aspen Athletics, a member-focused health club also in Aksarben Village. Two months after he opened, he had 500 members; he moved the club to a $300 million development in that neighborhood a year later. Further growth soon reached a ceiling. The small business’ cash flow barely allowed the company to meet its current obligations; for example, their loan and lease financing rates ranged from 6-1/2 to 18 percent. Getting a loan to bring down those payments was crucial, but the collateral, much of which was tied up in exercise equipment with diminished resale value, meant it would be impossible to obtain traditional bank financing.
“A perfect fit for the SBA,” Lenczowski explained. The improved cash flow relieved financial pressure on the business, and as a result of the refinancing project, will permit the small business to continue to expand and as a result provide more jobs in the Omaha community.”
Beyond service to its small business clients is Enterprise Bank’s service to the community. Among a large number of philanthropic efforts is working with Aksarben Cinema promoting “Together, Inc.”, a non-profit homeless prevention agency to its neighbors in the area. In exchange for a small donation or a can of non-perishable food, families can enjoy a free movie. Their officers also serve as board members of CREW Omaha, Angels Among Us, Midlands Mentoring Partnership, and Midlands Latino Development Corporation.
Henry Aschoff and Keith Wiehn, president and vice-president, respectively, of Petersen Ag Systems, Inc., have been named the Nebraska Small Business of the Year for 2013. The Norfolk-based firm is an agricultural equipment supplier of irrigation and grain handling products with outlets in Osmond, Hartington and Fremont, and Onawa, Iowa.
The company was nominated for the honor by Loren Kucera, Director, Nebraska Business Development Center (NBDC), Wayne. They have been invited to attend the culmination of National Small Business Week June 21 in Washington, D.C., and will compete against candidates from all 50 states and territories for selection as the SBA’s National Small Business Person of the Year.
As part of National Small Business Week, the U.S. Small Business Administration will take the opportunity to highlight the impact of outstanding entrepreneurs and small business owners. More than half of Americans either own or work for a small business, and these firms create about two out of every three new jobs in the U.S. each year.
Petersen Ag Systems was chosen as the state’s top small business based on its history as an established business, growth in number of employees, increase in sales and unit volume, response to adversity and innovation in products and services offered.
Seeking to purchase the business in 2000, Aschoff and Wiehn turned to NBDC for technical assistance and help packaging an SBA 7(a) loan application.
Since buying the business 13 years ago, Aschoff and Wiehn have grown the company from 11 employees to 41; the company hires 15 to 20 part-time employees during the summer, and plans to hire an additional 10 to 12 employees over the next 12 to 18 months.
Sales steadily have grown from $3.2 million in 2000 to nearly $20 million in 2012, a figure which includes sales of 12 used center pivot irrigation systems to a U.S. company which in turn exports them to agricultural businesses in the Ukraine. Over the next five to 10 years, Petersen Ag Systems expects indirectly to export another 300 more used pivot systems to the eastern European country.
The pair guided the company through the recent nationwide economic downturn by cutting their own salaries, freezing new equipment purchases and reducing inventory, all while keeping its workforce intact.
“How we do business has separated us from the competition,” Adchoff said. “We want to be able to go to church on Sunday and not have to hide from anybody.”
As the region climbed out of the recession, Petersen Ag Systems expanded its operations by becoming a dealership for GSI, the world’s largest manufacturer of farm storage systems. The company also serves as the third-largest dealership in the world for Lindsay Zimmatic Irrigation Systems, with a territory which covers a large part of the state and counties in Iowa and South Dakota. Recently, the company was named one of Lindsay’s top 10 dealerships in the country thanks to high marks for its sales and service.
That landfill on the outskirts of your town stuffed with trash may now be playing a part to light and heat your home. Helping communities turn noxious odors into green energy is one of the jobs of an Omaha-based engineering firm.
But to Gary Kuhn, it’s not just a job to protect the environment, it’s a passion.
“It’s all about being responsible for the environment,” Kuhn said. “The same principles and values I try to instill in my kids, I hope are consistent with the values that I try to provide with my professional services.”
Starting out with an Express loan
He took that passion, and nearly 25 years of experience in environmental and civil engineering, to found his own consulting firm in 2012: G.N. Kuhn Engineering, LLC. Kuhn used a quick approval for an SBA Express loan through First National Bank for start-up costs, including a new desktop computer, engineering software, field equipment and working capital. Thanks to networking and referrals across the Midwest region to meet the growing demand for environmentally-smart waste management services, he expects to match 2012 revenues by April of this year, and hopes to open an office shortly.
Typical projects for the firm involve preparation of design documents, permit applications, and negotiated permit conditions for landfill and other solid waste management facilities throughout the Midwest. Kuhn also is providing landfill gas services to several clients using landfill gas collection systems to capture and control methane gas generated as trash decomposes within the landfill.
While Kuhn’s firm primarily is focused on solid waste management projects, consulting work also includes landfill site preparation, site grading, building parking areas, roadways, drainage, sanitary sewers, coordination of site utilities, and erosion controls.
Today, one of the fastest-growing trends in renewable energy is to collect landfill gas and send it to nearby utility companies to be turned into electricity, or conveyed directly to manufacturing plants, schools or other buildings to fuel heating and cooling systems. Some facilities use the gas to power the very devices that collect the gas in the first place. The entire process is so carefully managed to prevent leaks or odors that nearby neighborhoods scarcely notice a landfill even exists next door.
“Landfills are so much more than just a hole in the ground,” Kuhn said. “I realized there’s so much more proactive engineering involved in the planning, designing, construction, operating, and monitoring of these facilities so a leak is either detected immediately or they don’t leak in the first place.”
Keeping trash from clogging landfills is daunting
There’s big business in trash: owners of landfills, often municipalities, but sometimes private waste corporations, spend millions on liner systems and gas collection systems.
“The facilities are large investments and the owners almost are offended if you call it a dump; in reality, it’s an engineered solid waste facility.” But there’s another reason why there’s sustainable business in trash.
“If you read what the Environmental Protection Agency reports, the amount of material we’re recycling in this country is just enough to keep up with population growth,” Kuhn said. “The amount of waste disposed of in landfills isn’t increasing, it’s leveled off. Ideally you’d like a zero waste world, but there’s not enough recycling right now to eliminate the need for landfills.”
While municipalities seek to strengthen recycling programs, and Kuhn sees a consistent desire for clean water and air, “there’s a cost. So communities need a balance. In my work I’m not just looking at disposal of trash, I take a holistic approach to solid waste management, working with them to reduce, reuse and recycle to divert those materials from a landfill in the first place.”
Prior to starting his own firm, he provided similar planning, permitting, design, construction and compliance services at solid waste facilities across Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas and Missouri; he’s also served with the Cornhusker Chapter of the Solid Waste Association of North America and the American Public Works Association.
Lifelong dedication to environmental work
Kuhn’s decision to become an environmental engineer was made while in college when he decided to follow in the footsteps of his father, a retired environmental engineer with the Union Pacific railroad.
“I always knew I wanted to be an engineer,” he explained, “but it was my father’s guidance and insight into the role an environmental engineer plays in the protection and restoration of our water, land and air environments that began my professional journey.
Kuhn said he tries to set an example, recycling at home and at work, and has been invited by his kids’ teachers to talk to middle school and high school students about the importance of recycling and being good stewards of the environment.
“Recycling and overall environmental awareness is everybody’s responsibility,” he added, “not just for my clients or other consultants like me.”