Small business loans work -- My family's veteran legacy is proof

A small business loan half a century ago is still impacting my family today

The recently passed stimulus package authorizes the Small Business Administration to offer 100 percent guarantees for up to $349 billion in loans for small businesses that need to cover payroll, rent and other bills. While these loans may not singlehandedly save our economy, they will be a lifeline for millions of people. I know because a small business loan half a century ago is still impacting my family today.

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This isn't the first time small businesses have struggled. During World War II, wartime defense contracts with large companies left many small businesses unable to compete. The Smaller War Plants Corporation (SWPC), a predecessor of the Small Business Administration, provided direct loans to private entrepreneurs. After the war, veterans who had to start careers from scratch got low-interest loans to start businesses, many of which have served our country for generations.

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In 1947, after the end of World War II, a 21-year-old Army air corpsman named Murray Goff returned home to New York to begin his life as a veteran and a civilian. He would eventually open his own jewelry store in Brooklyn, and 68 years after the end of his military service, I would marry his grandson wearing a custom ring from this store. It's a testament to the lasting impact of small business loans and veteran entrepreneurship, and one that has touched me and my family through generations.

Murray's father was a tailor, and his mother was a seamstress. They were immigrants who met in 1917, in a sweatshop in lower Manhattan. But when Murray returned home to New York as a new veteran, he had an opportunity his parents had never had – he was able to use his GI Bill to buy the books and supplies he needed to learn the watchmaking trade.

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Watchmakers, in those days, were in high demand; virtually all timekeeping devices were mechanical, and they required regular maintenance. Over the next 20 years, Murray worked as a watchmaker, a jewelry salesman and a jewelry store manager in New York, New Jersey and Virginia. Then, in 1966, married with two children, he decided to apply for a low-interest loan from the Small Business Administration.

I hope that as we support our small businesses during this tough time, people will especially remember our veteran small businesses.

Murray was approved for $15,000 (about $150,000 today) – a fortune to him at the time. When he and his wife left the SBA office, check in hand, they were so certain someone had given them too much money that they left their umbrella in the office and rushed home in the pouring rain without it, afraid to go back.

Goff Jewelers opened in 1967, and that $15,000 has grown into a successful business that has supported Murray's family for over half a century. Today, my husband's brother, Brian, runs Goff Jewelers in Staten Island as a third-generation owner.

I hope that as we support our small businesses during this tough time, people will especially remember our veteran small businesses.

After a period of decline, the number of veteran businesses has risen steadily in recent years, thanks to programs like PenFed Foundation's Veteran Entrepreneur Investment Program, the Small Business Administration's Boots to Business program, and the International Franchise Association (IFA)'s VetFran.

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Right now, we need continued support of veteran entrepreneurs from businesses, legislators and consumers. We also need to be thinking to the future about how we can grow our veteran businesses as the economy recovers. Veterans are well-prepared for challenging circumstances through their rigorous training, and this makes them a smart business investment. Officials are comparing this pandemic to a war; those who have gone to war are well-positioned to lead our economy out of this.

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As the director of veteran entrepreneurs at the PenFed Foundation, I have seen that one of the biggest hurdles has been the mystification of how to access capital. With the current economy, many veteran business owners are desperately in need of capital to sustain their businesses. Additionally, others will need capital to start new businesses. Many veterans overestimate how much they'll need to start a business, and they don’t consider entrepreneurship as an option. This overestimation deters them from pursuing business ideas.

I hope that companies and organizations that have the resources will be thinking over the next several months about how they can help connect veteran small business owners with capital. The PenFed Foundation also has a list of resources where veterans can find emergency access to capital.

The potential for job creation from veteran entrepreneurship is enormous. Every year, a quarter of a million military personnel leave the service and enter the workforce. Across the country, there are countless Americans who are the legacies of post-World-War II entrepreneurship. My husband is one of them. One day, I hope we will have a generation of post-COVID-19 veteran business legacies.

Seda Goff is the director of veteran entrepreneurs at PenFed Foundation.

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