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Newsome: Small-business pressure needed in Washington

Shaundell Newsome, founder of Las Vegas marketing firm Sumnu Marketing, had quite a month in May. Mid-month, he went to Washington D.C., to participate in the Small Business Leadership Summit. Later in the month, his business was honored as the SBA’s family-owned business of the year in Nevada.

5Q caught up with Newsome to talk about what he’d learned from his experiences.

Q. Congratulations are due on both fronts. But let’s start with the summit. That’s quite an honor and we know you went with lots of questions. One had to be about the perpetual small-business concern of access to capital. Anything new coming from the SBA or any alternative programs that might help?

A. Yes. I had the opportunity to ask SBA Director Maria Contreras-Sweet this question directly. Prior to her presidential appointment, she developed a bank to address these concerns. She mentioned that the SBA does not lend money directly. But they have actively pursued alternative lending programs like ACCION, which recently moved to Nevada.

She said her office is putting direct pressure on regulators to change the way that traditional banks are lending to small-business owners. Our group is grateful for the alternative lending options. But we feel that legislators need to push regulators to give consideration to small- business owners who had their credit impacted by the recession.

I had many discussions with Bob Holquin, Nevada’s SBA director, about access to capital. He confirmed the SBA’s commitment to increasing the alternative lending programs and working to educate small-business owners on how to prepare for traditional loans.

Q. The SBA has long been under fire for not doing enough to help small business, particularly minority-owned small business, get its share of federal contracts. Anything new on the horizon?

A. I heard some horror stories at the conference from other small- business owners. My experience is Nevada has been the direct opposite. The SBA, (Small Business Development Center) and SCORE have been a great asset to our company. There were no specific programs mentioned that addressed minority-owned firms.

Our discussion group mainly talked about certifications and how to use them more effectively. The SBA’s 8a program was touted as the “set aside” program for small, disadvantaged and minority-owned businesses.

The SBA director did say the office worked hard to simplify contracting processes for small businesses, realizing that some certifications were too cumbersome for us. A number of our small-business owners in attendance felt that contracts are still not designed to encourage small- and minority-business participation.

Q. Part of your Washington visit included a meeting with White House staff. You’ve said the group asked some tough questions. Did you come away with the sense that the White House understands the small-business concerns and is doing things to help?

A. Honestly, I think that it’s going to take a while for Washington to clearly understand the challenge of small-business owners. We had a robust discussion about the new tax code and the implications on small businesses. The White House talked about the proposed new code with special provisions that level the playing field for small businesses. However, they are working on the details. Small Business Majority President John Arensmeyer vowed to keep our concerns on the forefront of these discussions. I believe we made some progress in elevating those concerns since 2009 when I first met John and his team. But I think it’s going to take more involvement from small-business owners around the country to get Washington to take us seriously. We need to apply more pressure.

Q. Let’s talk a minute about the award as the SBA’s family-owned business of the year? How did that come about and what does it mean to you and your company?

A. Our family is elated to receive this award. It means a lot to us personally and professionally. During the recession, our company lost 60 percent of its annual gross revenue in less than a few months. I could not draw a paycheck for five years. My wife and I lost our home, a car and most of our retirement savings to survive.

Two of our children and our niece wanted to help. We made them partners in the company and re-branded the firm. We worked with the SBA, SCORE, SBDC, Urban and Las Vegas Metro Chamber to establish the new brand. The roller coaster was an amazing and scary experience.

Finally, we saw a 24.7 percent profit increase last year. We are grateful to our client, NV Energy, and specifically, Rose Davis for nominating us for this award. She noticed our commitment to helping other small-business owners get connected with companies like hers. We are proud to make that our life’s mission.

Q. Now that you’ve had a few days to catch your breath, what’s your takeaway and what kind of message can you share with small-business owners here in Las Vegas?

A. My advice is to get connected, get engaged and stay involved. Our firm volunteers with the SBA and SCORE to do workshops at Nellis Air Force Base in the Boots to Business program to help transitioning service members. We work with SBDC to facilitate the Nx Level for Micro-Entrepreneurs class every year for 15 weeks. We are extremely active in the Urban Chamber and Las Vegas Metro Chamber, locally to establish relationships.

I spend a lot of time with Small Business Majority to have a voice in D.C. and throughout the nation. Our political and community involvement during the recession helped us to get opportunities for new business with the Regional Transportation Commission and Fuel Revenue Indexing in the valley.

Coincidentally this effort is creating more business for local small-business enterprises.

So, I guess the message is to passionately pursue your purpose. Get connected, engaged and involved in your community on all levels. In our family’s case, we put our trust in God to give us guidance in business and life.

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