SBA Taking Nominations for Entrepreneur of Year

There's Dear Santa Letter Week. American Education Week. Better Conversation Week - all just in November! But as far as the country’s entrepreneurs are concerned, the one week that trumps them all will be Small Business Week 2010, celebrated the week of May 23.

Small Business Week, inaugurated in 1963, shines the light on the 27.2 million small businesses in the U.S. The federal Small Businesses Administration (SBA), which sponsors the awards, aims to highlight entrepreneurial contributions to the American economy, pointing out that the Moms and Pops annually create 60-80% of all new jobs in the country. The SBA awards go to owners who have overcome challenges – such as natural disasters – to firms that most encouraged the creation of new entrepreneurial endeavors. Nominations for Small Business Person of the Year, which come from every state and the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Guam, are due to local offices by Nov. 13. Details about the application and its contents can be found on the SBA Web site.

Karen Mills, administrator for the SBA, gave a speech in October that highlighted just how much things have improved for small businesses since the government stimulus package was passed in February. Since then, SBA has lent $13 billion via 33,000 loans. Through one specific type of loan, the SBA loaned out funds at the highest rate in two years.

"And we’ve provided broad support across the diverse U.S. small business community: rural (27%), minority (20%), women (19%) and veteran (9%)," Mills said.

That should pay off in plenty of opportunity for new companies to get recognition for achievements in 2009. There are limits on who can win the honors, mainly based on size and revenue. Any individual who owns and operates or who "bears principal responsibility" for operating a small business may be nominated. That includes up to four partners who jointly own a company.

One winner from last year was Robert Johnston, chairman and founder of Johnny's Selected Seeds in Winslow, Maine. Johnston started the company in the attic of a New Hampshire farmhouse in 1973, when he was 22. The cost of the start-up: $500.

But nearly 34 years later, Johnny's is a top seller of seeds for both commercial and home use in more than 50 countries. The business now has 80 full-time employees and 50 part-time workers. Sales in 2007 reached $14.4 million.

Another way to land a Small Business Administration award is to be a provider of government-backed funds. Last year's Financial Services champion of the year was W. Keith McLaughlin, a senior vice president at The Bank of Missouri in Columbia.

In 1982, McLaughlin launched a business brokerage firm that handled acquisition and sales of small businesses, and also packaged SBA loans for banks. In 1997, he joined Union Planters Bank and grew their new SBA lending division into one of Missouri's top producers. Once he landed at The Bank of Missouri, he helped launch a small business education program between the bank and the Missouri Small Business Development Center, where he is an instructor. Through his volunteering, he was able to help save 30 jobs in Alma, Missouri (population 350) by helping to negotiate a better deal.

Two more one-of-a-kind awards are called Phoenix Awards. The first is for a small business that is able to recover following physical damage from a natural disaster. The other will go to a volunteer or public official who helped an entire community's economy bounce back after a major calamity.