Local SBA branch faces leader’s exit, reports growing loan volume

Maria Hoover, SBJ Features EditorIn less than two weeks, Walter Cowart will wrap up a 35-year career with the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Cowart joined the SBA in 1976 in Lubbock, Texas and served as manager of SBA’s Springfield branch office since 2008. He came to Springfield in 1981 from SBA’s Kansas City district office to help launch the local branch, where his last day is Aug. 26. As he prepares to leave, the branch reports an increase in loan volumes for financing backed by the SBA.

The Springfield SBA branch office serves 28 southwest Missouri counties, and Cowart says the positive attitude of the region’s small-business population is one of his favorite things about working in the Ozarks.

The local SBA office will have just two employees after Cowart’s departure: Janice Bowman and M. Brent Jones. Cowart said it hasn’t been determined whether the branch manager position will be filled, but he said Bowman and Jones will continue serving small businesses under the banner of the Kansas City district office.

Recent SBA data indicates that the number of entrepreneurs seeking SBA assistance – particularly for its guaranteed loans – is on the upswing.

Through June 30, the end of SBA’s 2011 fiscal year, volume for loans backed through the SBA’s Springfield branch grew by 23 percent to more than $128 million, according to SBA data. Through the third quarter, SBA reported 324 loans, compared to 307 loans worth more than $104 million for the first three quarters of fiscal 2010.

The last time local SBA loan volume exceeded $100 million was in 2007, when the branch reported 467 loans worth $105.9 million.

While it’s probably too soon to say whether that volume growth means the small-business community has left the recession behind, it supports Cowart’s experience with Ozarks small-business owners.

“In southwest Missouri, the attitude of the small-business population is, “If you’ll just give me a little help, I’ll get it done,’ and that has been true for the 30 years I’ve been down here,” Cowart said in an Aug. 4 article.

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