Small businesses are the engines of job creation and economic activity. That is true in the Pacific Northwest, as it is across the country, in communities large and small. And it is certainly the case in the South Sound, where the population and economy are both growing and diversifying alongside the increasing number of small businesses that dot the region. Entrepreneurs abound in conventional industries such as tourism and commercial fishing, but new companies span a host of other sectors, from emerging areas of agriculture to new forms of manufacturing.
More often than not, the oil that lubricates these engines of growth is credit. Local banks focused on small-business lending play a vital role in the process of financing startups and providing additional credit as small businesses mature and expand. Community banks have long operated with an eye on continuous development and sharing of local expertise. We live and work in the communities we serve. We study our local economies and work hard to understand our clients’ businesses. We know that when local businesses thrive, so do the neighborhoods around them. Strong neighborhoods stick together to form the fabric of vibrant communities, and everyone succeeds when communities flourish.
To further enhance our ability to serve business clients, we continue to ramp up our commitment to — and efforts in — Small Business Administration (SBA) lending.
The SBA is a government agency that works in concert with banks to support entrepreneurs and small businesses. The organization has modernized and simplified its loan-application and approval processes, making it more seamless for bank partners to work with increasingly more borrowers to efficiently and flexibly structure lending solutions of varying sizes and types. For example, Columbia Bank’s Express Line of Credit targets loans as small as $5,000 and provides very quick underwriting, making it a streamlined and exceptionally efficient solution for smaller businesses.
And last year, we completed 283 SBA loans — more than four times the level in 2017 — for a total of $46 million, and we ranked among the top five SBA lenders in Washington. This reflected strong demand from small business owners and increased interest in the SBA program.
We expect continued progress as we anticipate sustained business growth in the South Sound and across the Northwest, as populations continue to swell, job markets and economies expand, and sentiment among our clients points to ongoing investment in new businesses and overall growth.
The Washington economy, for one, entered 2019 on solid footing by almost any measure. Between Jan. 2018 and the same month this year, the state’s labor force expanded by 83,500, led by Greater Seattle’s gain of 28,400. Population and economic growth rates exceeded those at the national level in the same period of time.
Still, other credit options might prove better fits for some business borrowers. On the small-business front, for instance, we also are drawing upon our wide network and contacts across our regional footprint to help clients who might not qualify for SBA or other traditional bank loans find nontraditional lending resources. Our ultimate goal for our SBA program is to be the first destination for small businesses throughout the Pacific Northwest.
Business formation and innovation continue to trend upward, especially in the Northwest, and we want to help fuel that expansion. Again, we know that small businesses drive new employment, strengthen local economies, and fortify communities. Helping to ensure that virtuous cycle is positive for community banks such as ours and for the Northwest as a whole.