Kennedy: Veterans have harder time getting financing for business ventures

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I should have thought to count the number of times Amy Amoroso peppered her talk with the word “free.”

No matter, it was a lot.

Amoroso, based in Watervliet, is director of the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Veteran Business Outreach Center for a federal region that covers New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. She described as “predominantly free” the many programs she has contact with that offer information and assistance to former service members looking to start or grow a business.

Her audience, numbering two dozen or so, was at one of the break-out sessions held earlier this week as part of VetCon 2018, the annual two-day business-opportunity conference for veterans organized by Colonie law firm Tully Rinckey and its charitable arm, the Tully Rinckey Foundation.

The event, part trade show and part concurrent seminars (with ample networking available, too), is billed as offering an assist to veterans as they transition back into civilian life as employees or entrepreneurs. This year’s sold-out conference drew participants from across the state.

I asked to sit in on Amoroso’s session after reading a report this month from the Small Business Administration and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York that suggested veteran-owned businesses were having more trouble accessing capital than those operated by non-veterans.

The report was based on the 2017 results of a yearly survey done by Federal Reserve banks across the country that collects data on small-business financing needs and borrowing experiences.

The results indicated that veteran-owned businesses seeking financing – loans, lines of credit and cash advances – were more likely than their non-veteran counterparts to get less than they asked for. Their approval rate for loans from the top three sources of credit – large banks, small banks and online lenders – also was lower than for non-veteran applicants, the report said.

The differences may be explained by the smaller loan amounts sought by veterans (sometimes regarded as too low by banks for the paperwork costs involved), or by veterans’ insufficient credit history or available collateral (the result of frequent moves and overseas assignments), according to the report.

While the report was not mentioned in Amoroso’s lively session, her walk through programs offered by her group and others (“It’s free!” she kept interjecting) illustrated one of its “forward thoughts”: that “spreading awareness of all the organizations that exist to help veteran entrepreneurs will go a long way to addressing [capital access] problems.”

“Veterans get credit for defending our freedom, and now we know that they need more credit for their businesses,” the report concluded.

Business census data from 2012, the latest numbers available, show the Albany-Schenectady-Troy metro area with 6,100 veteran-owned firms, New York with 137,000, and the U.S. with 2.5 million. That put veteran-owned firms at more than 10 percent of all firms counted that year.

Marlene Kennedy is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in her column are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach her at marlenejkennedy@gmail.com.

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