2-Jan-09 4:00 PM CST
Small Business Owners Weather Economic Downturn
Marilyn Gordon might shutter the doors of her Bradford, N.H., bed and breakfast, even after her bank reduced her mortgage payment so that she could pay other pressing bills.
Allen Johnson is paying larger fees and a higher interest rate on the credit card he uses to help run his Manchester software business.
And Dan van Kalken needs someone to loan him money for a new truck for his Dunbarton landscaping business.
They are among the real faces of the nation's credit crunch and the country's economic downturn.
While legislators continue to negotiate details of a possible $700 billion bailout of the country's financial system, some in New Hampshire -- including Gordon -- wonder whether Washington should look further down the economic food chain in its efforts to free up credit.
"Maybe it's time to help the little businesses, and this way we can start putting money back into the economy and help people with jobs," Gordon said.
More than half of New Hampshire businesses employ fewer than five people. And three out of four have fewer than 10 workers.
Bankers have sought to assure nervous business people that credit remains available.
Centrix Bank CEO Joseph Reilly said, "We have continued to do business as usual" while monitoring the disruptions in the financial markets.
"Does that mean that there might be some loans today that we will pass on that we may not have passed on a year ago? Yeah," he said.
But, for commercial business loans, "there is no credit crunch in New Hampshire," said Reilly, who has discussed the subject with some of his banking counterparts.
But Nancy Kyle, president and CEO of the Retail Merchants Association of New Hampshire, said retailers, like some individuals, are finding it "very difficult to get any credit as far as business loans."
Small business owners, such as landscaper van Kalken, worry about their future.
"If people like us start dropping like flies, what's next?" he asked. "It's scary. That's my biggest worry. We don't really know."
For 34 years, Dan van Kalken has owned Confier Hill Landscaping in Dunbarton.
His raw costs are increasing, gas prices are remaining too high and potential customers are watching their pennies.
"I only have so many hours of the day that I can bill out," he said.
He normally undertakes high-end landscaping work, but lately he's been busy doing drainage work.
He's another person diversifying to cover his mortgage payments.
Suppliers often will guarantee price quotes only for 10 days.
"It's almost like buying futures" in the financial markets, he said.
His two trucks are paid for.
"I'd like to buy a new truck, but not with what's going on with the economy," van Kalken said.
He wants to know how Washington will fix the economy.
"I don't know what my lawmakers are going to do to help the common man," he said. "We're not buying second homes or the fourth car."
If nothing else, he said, "I think I'm entitled to maybe a relaxation of the credit crunch."
A bank wouldn't give him a loan because it wanted better business cash flow, said van Kalken, who has a loan request pending with MicroCredit-NH, a nonprofit program providing loans to small businesses.
He needs credit "to buy the equipment and have a small cushion," he said.
“I don’t like to get down to where I only have 20 bucks in my pocket,” said van Kalken, who has one son in college and second entering next year.
"The very fabric of America's strength is in jeopardy because of greed," he said. "I'm doing a lot more than I should have to just to survive."
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Source: Union Leader
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