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Small-Business Loans Prove Easier With 'Bank Relationship'

Joe Roberts (at left) and Rob Connoley joined Friday's show.
Joe Roberts & St. Louis Public Radio

Like so many restaurateurs and other local business owners, Rob Connoley has directly felt the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic. He’s the chef/owner of Bulrush in Grand Center, and, suffice to say, the acclaimed restaurant and its talented staff aren’t currently able to connect diners to the culinary riches of the Ozarks.

But Connoley reached out to St. Louis on the Air the other day with some genuinely good news to report: He’d successfully applied for a forgivable loan through the U.S. Small Business Administration and, in a matter of days, had also received the money.

On Friday’s show, Connoley joined host Sarah Fenske to share his experience and some lessons he’s learned from going through the process. The conversation also included Joe Roberts, who directs Webster University’s Entrepreneurship Program and frequently collaborates and consults with St. Louis’ Cortex community.

Roberts is seeking to assist local small businesses as they navigate financial relief options following Congress’ passage of the CARES Act. Not all of them have found the process as seamless as Connoley has.

And, further complicating matters, on Wednesday news broke that the Small Business Administration had run out of its $349 billion allocation for the Paycheck Protection Program. Lawmakers hope to give it more funding, but as of midday Friday are not yet in agreement on a path forward.

The two guests outlined various tips and relief options — and also discussed some of the challenges people are encountering.

They each emphasized the key role of banks right now — stating that business owners who already have a strong relationship with a bank have seen more success in accessing the loans.

“I’ve always thought it was important to not just have a bank account but have a bank relationship, and it took me a long time in my career to understand what that actually meant, but it’s paid off now,” Connoley said.

Roberts noted that some relief options through the Small Business Administration are still available, even with the Paycheck Protection Program out of commission.

“The SBA has another product called the SBA Express Bridge Loans, [which is] a loan available in a disaster situation like this,” he said. “And that money is not run out.”

Roberts added that the barriers many small businesses are facing right now speak to a larger issue with the federal stimulus efforts.

“Main Street is where a lot of action is, in terms of [the] economic engine,” he said, “[but] Wall Street got a bigger chunk. ... And then of course when politics enters this, everything kind of goes out the window. But my best recommendation would be to go to your banker and then maybe see if you qualify for an SBA Express Bridge Loan. [And] if the funds [for the Paycheck Protection Program] open up again, you should be ready to jump in and apply and get the funds right away.”

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan and Joshua Phelps. The engineer is Aaron Doerr, and production assistance is provided by Charlie McDonald.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.

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Evie was a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.
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