COVID-19 relief options and additional resources

Region IV | Resources

State of the Southeast for Small Business

By Ashley D. Bell, Regional Administrator, U.S. Small Business Administration

Millions of Americans tuned in to President Trump’s State of the Union Address on Tuesday, February 5. The President’s overall message to the nation,  “American Greatness,” is something I believe truly resonates with the 6.4 million small businesses located across the Southeast. Entrepreneurs should feel encouraged from every corner that there is a significant amount of forward motion and opportunity for American small businesses. The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) is helping to power the American dream of entrepreneurship in new and innovative ways.

Much of the economic strength the President touted is the direct result of local small business owners creating opportunities and a valuable quality of life for people in our local communities. As of January 2019, we’ve had a record 100 consecutive months of job growth. This is more than double previous records with 5.3 million new jobs created during this Administration.

In addition to more jobs, we’ve also seen wages grow. Wages are currently at an 11-year high with six consecutive months of wage growth at or above 3 percent. This is good news for the millions of employees of small businesses.

We’re also seeing historically low unemployment. For 11 straight months, unemployment has been at or below 4 percent nationwide. We thank our small business owners for growing and hiring more employees.

We are seeing an increase in start-ups. As the President has mentioned, applications for new businesses increased 16 percent during the past two years; twice as fast as the two-year period before.

So how do we protect America’s job creators and empower them to do what they do best? We will continue to advocate for and provide American entrepreneurs with resources they need during their business lifecycle –  whether they are a start-up or a growing manufacturing firm.

It is my goal to help every entrepreneur gain access to the capital they need to start, grow, and build a business that will last for many generations. One initiative we have rolled out across the Southeast Region is called Rural Strong. We are working alongside the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in every district to be sure that not only rural entrepreneurs have access to the tools they need to succeed, but we also engage the rural lenders. We want to help position rural lenders to serve the small businesses in their areas to the best of their abilities. One tool we are marketing is called Lender Match; an online tool that anyone may use to find a lender anywhere in the United States. We are also assisting rural entrepreneurs with selling their products and services to the federal government to help diversify their business trends and allow for more security in their company’s growth.

We also initiated Drive 8a across the Southeast Region. This initiative is an education tool for entrepreneurs to learn how to market themselves to the federal government by utilizing the SBA’s 8(a) Business Development Program. We are also focusing on graduated 8(a) firms to be sure they have the skills they need to continue to grow after participating in the nine-year development program. Please reach out to your local district office to learn more about Rural Strong and Drive 8a. There are opportunities in every state in the Southeastern United States to participate in these programs.

Emerging Leaders is a program that is kicking off in many states. This seven-month course is a free entrepreneurship education and training program for executives of small, growing companies that are potential job creators. The series provides opportunities for small business owners to work with experienced coaches and mentors, attend workshops, and develop connections with their peers, local leaders, and the financial community. Emerging Leaders is similar to getting a fast track MBA on your own business. To learn more about this program, please visit here.

There is no better way to highlight the state of small business in the Southeast than by showcasing successful products of the SBA through National Small Business Week. This year’s celebration will occur May 5-11, 2019. Many of your colleagues and community leaders have been nominated for awards. One of the best ways to learn how to best utilize what the SBA has to offer is through a fellow entrepreneur’s experience. Stay tuned for National Small Business Week events and highlights happening in May in your own backyard.

The state of small business is strong in the Southeast. The SBA has backed over a billion dollars in loans to small businesses so far this fiscal year (as of October 1, 2018). We are on track for a record breaking year with lending. We anticipate exceeding the 23% goal set aside for all government contracts to be awarded to small business- again. And we work every day through our resource partners such as the Small Business Development Centers, Women’s Business Centers, SCORE and Veterans Business Outreach Centers to train and counsel entrepreneurs at no cost every single day.  Thank you for allowing us to serve you and for helping to make the state of small business an entrepreneurial reality.


Ashley D. Bell is the Regional Administrator for the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) Southeast Region. The SBA empowers entrepreneurs and small businesses with resources to start, grow, expand or recover.