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Government at work for small business

Rochester Business Journal
June 27, 2014

Virginia Smith oversees all offerings and partnerships for the local SBA branch. (Photo by Kimberly McKinzie)

Virginia Smith plans to provide the Rochester branch of the U.S. Small Business Administration with stability it hasn’t had in seven years.

Smith, 35, took over as branch manager here in June 2013. She replaced Jon Malcolm Richards, who held the position from September 2009 until January 2013, when he returned to his native New York City to work for the SBA there.

Richards came to Rochester after the death from cancer of John Marino, branch director from February 2008 until Jan. 1, 2009.

Smith previously was a lender relations specialist in the Syracuse office of the SBA for five years. Before that, she was finance director for five years at Home HeadQuarters Inc., a Syracuse non-profit provider of housing and related opportunities for the underserved.

Smith commuted to Rochester SBA offices in the Kenneth B. Keating Federal Building on State Street for eight months while she, husband Michael and sons Eamon and Tobin searched for a suitable home, which they finally found in Canandaigua.

“It took us a long time because we’re not planning to go anywhere,” she says. “This was a house that we wanted to make sure we loved, in an area we loved, when we moved there.

“This is not a situation where in three to five years we’re going to move. And being so new to the area, we had to do a lot of research. It was about taxes and schools, commuting time for me, and the community. Those were the four big things.”

Michael, a carpenter by trade, is a stay-at-home dad to Eamon, 4, and Tobin, 3. He is a native of Marietta, southwest of Syracuse in Onondaga County. Virginia Smith was born and raised in Houston.

“We ended up in Canandaigua because of Ontario County taxes,” she says. “My husband is a big skier, and it’s near Bristol Mountain. The schools are very good. It’s a good commute for me, and the city itself is walkable. We walk everywhere.”

The Rochester SBA gives small businesses access to credit, loans and government contracts. In Syracuse, Smith was primarily involved with traditional 7(a) loans. In Rochester, she oversees all SBA offerings and partnerships.

“Jill of all trades, master of none,” Smith says of herself.

“I love doing everything,” she says, recalling four recent phone calls from business owners wondering about language in contracts they had signed. “There is no day that is exactly the same.

“The fact that I got phone calls saying, ‘I’m seeing a contract problem,’ and I can actually help with that rather than having to hand that off … I mean, my job is to help. If I don’t know the answer, I bring in the experts to help. There’s no way you could ever get bored with this job.”

Smith has arranged to have representatives of Rochester law firm Boylan Code LLP speak to small-business people about what to look for before signing a contract.

“Businesses call,” she says, “and that’s kind of how I figure out what they need.”

The Rochester branch includes Monroe, Ontario, Livingston, Wayne, Seneca and Yates counties. The branch is part of the SBA’s district office in Buffalo, where former Rochester branch manager Victoria Reynolds is now deputy district director.

“This community, and this small-business world, is extremely friendly and driven to help small businesses,” Smith says. “There are so many people and entities out there. It’s really amazing.

“We’ve been able to partner with many of them throughout the year to grow programs and services and get our message out about what SBA does, but also get their message out about how they can help.”

Smith has helped start several programs since coming to Rochester, including an entrepreneurs program for veterans and an advocacy program for regulatory change.

“She’s done a good job,” says Franklin Sciortino, director of the Buffalo district office. “We’re glad that she’s with us. Management would always be involved in those, because those are major programs. So it’s good that she’s covering all the programs.”

Operation Entrepreneurship was a daylong training session at Canandaigua National Bank & Trust Co. for veterans interested in starting a business. The presenters included representatives of the bank, the Small Business Development Center of SUNY College at Brockport, and the Service Corps of Retired Executives, an SBA affiliate.

“It was a good example of what we can do and how we can help the community,” Smith says.

Another Operation Entrepreneurship event is planned for August at the Veterans Outreach Center Inc. in Rochester.

Smith and High Tech Rochester Inc. have jointly held international trade sessions at which a representative from the SBA’s Office of Advocacy was available to discuss regulatory issues.

“The SBA does a lot of things, but one of the things we do is advocate for regulation change,” Smith says. “Small businesses come to us and say, ‘This is killing my business,’ or ‘This regulation is a problem on the state and federal level. What can you do?’”

The Rochester branch is actively involved in the 8(a) development program for minority and economically disadvantaged businesses and the Historically Underutilized Business Zones program, which helps small businesses in urban and rural areas get preferential access to federal procurement opportunities.

The 8(a) program is a nine-year educational process, Smith says.

“The idea is when they start they haven’t had any government contract experience, and through this they can potentially receive government contracts,” she says.

HUBZones and businesses within them are determined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“They are census tracts that, say, if the business is located in a HUBZone and 33 percent of its employees live within a HUBZone, they can receive up to 10 percent price preference on a contract,” Smith says.

For example, if a non-HUBZone business submits a $100,000 bid, a HUBZone business can get the contract with a bid of $110,000, all other criteria being equal.

The SBA has planned an 8(a) and HUBZone event for August in conjunction with the Monroe County Finger Lakes Procurement Technical Assistance Center.

“I’m not a bureaucrat,” Smith says. “I’m always trying to think outside the box.

“Yes, we absolutely have our eligibility checklist for 7(a), and you’re either eligible or you’re not. But there might be ways to structure the loan differently that might make it eligible for finance. There are always ways to think around the box.”

The Rochester branch approved 294 7(a) loans totaling $59.1 million between banks and qualified small businesses for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 2013.

An additional 21 Certified Development Company/504 loans worth $12.3 million were approved for the purchase of fixed assets or real estate.

“The SBA program is growing,” Smith says. “Our loan guarantee programs have a higher volume this year than they did last year at this point.”

The average loan amount has been lower so far this year, she says, because the SBA waived fees paid on loans of $150,000 or less as of Oct. 1.

“In addition, SBA has implemented some new procedures for our lenders,” Smith notes. “We have drastically reduced their processing time, so it’s encouraging them to do smaller loans.”

Smith was part of an active family growing up. Her parents and two younger sisters spent much of their time swimming and boating in the Gulf of Mexico.

“I did a lot of sports,” she says. “My parents had me doing sports and after-school academic activity. I was always doing something.

“I was a huge swimmer. I swam year-round. I played basketball, a little bit of baseball. That was back before soccer and lacrosse really even existed.”

By high school, she had moved away from sports and into music and theater.

She left Houston for Sweet Briar College near Lynchburg, Va., where she earned a bachelor’s degree in American studies in 2000.

“I wanted to be a history teacher,” Smith says. “I just got into government and started to learn more about the government and really liked how it was.”

Her interest in government service was spawned during a summer break from college when she was selected to go to Galveston County in the Houston area and revamp its indigent health care program because its funding was being reduced.

“I did that for a summer, and I was sold,” Smith says.

After getting her degree from Sweet Briar, she enrolled in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University.

“I knew I wanted a public administration degree,” she says. “A lot of people don’t know what that is, but if you think of an MBA, it’s an MBA based on the government.”

After that, Smith spent two years in Washington, D.C., as a consultant for Ernst & Young LLP before returning to Syracuse to work for Home HeadQuarters.

She has taken up long-distance running since coming to Rochester. That and her two boys occupy most of her non-professional time.

“Our children are a full-time job,” she says. “They are high-energy.

“I do that, and I run. I started running when I moved to Rochester because it was the easiest thing to do in the middle of the day when I have about a half an hour, versus going to the gym.”

Smith has run two 13-mile half-marathons, including Rochester’s Flower City Challenge in April, and has two more scheduled this year, including the Shoreline 5K and Half-Marathon in Hamlin on July 19.

“By the time I had met her, I think she’d already run one half-marathon,” says Katherine Courtney, attorney adviser for the Social Security Administration’s Office of Disability Adjudication and Review.

Courtney’s office is across from the SBA on the Federal Building’s fourth floor.

“I have a very long running history,” Courtney says, “so it’s fun to run with someone who’s newer to the sport. She asks lots of questions and is very intuitive about listening to her body and doing what’s smart.”

Smith and her family also spend considerable time exploring their new surroundings in Canandaigua.

“Being so new and having moved in February, we’re now just getting to meet all our neighbors and getting out and doing the gardens and walking around and saying hi to people,” she says. “Before, you’re either holed up or you’re doing snow sports, which tend to be individual.”

Eamon is involved in local sports programs and is in prekindergarten in the Canandaigua City School District.

“We’re starting to see a lot of the same people,” Smith says. “And we do a lot of the community events, like the wine walk and the farmer’s market, just to get out and meet people.”

Virginia Smith
Title: Rochester branch manager, U.S. Small Business Administration
Age: 35
Home: Canandaigua
Education: B.A. in American studies, Sweet Briar College, 2000; master’s in public administration, Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University, 2001
Family: Husband Michael; sons Eamon, 4, and Tobin, 3
Hobbies: Running, neighborhood activities
Quote: “I think this is a really good community. It’s so positive and growing. And if we find a sector that’s not growing, we figure out what we can do.”


7/4/2014 (c) 2014 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email service@rbj.net.



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