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EL PASO, Texas – Credit unions received positive face time with more than 400 small business owners in this community by accepting an invitation to participate in Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s Small Business Summit here June 15. Not only were Government Employees Credit Union and West Texas Credit Union, the two El Paso credit unions currently approved for Small Business Administration lending programs, able to showcase their programs and hand out loan applications to business leaders at “meet your lender” sessions, but also GECU was a key presenter in a general session on financing business growth and expansion. The day-long summit, the first in a series to be presented across the state, is a follow-up to similar events held five or six years ago by the then Lieutenant Governor. At those conferences, small business owners identified several key areas in which they needed assistance: gaining access to financial resources; finding, developing and retaining qualified workers; controlling business expenses; minimizing risk of lawsuits; and accessing more robust management decision-making information. The El Paso Summit, and those that are to follow, addressed these topics, in hopes of jumpstarting area small businesses. According to SBA research, small business drives the local economy. In 2002, 8,150 of the city’s 10,208 businesses employed fewer than 20 people. Unfortunately, statistics also show that 80% of small firms die within their first three years of existence. GECU’s Arturo Moreno, vice president of business lending, was optimistic that his credit union’s participation in the summit would help El Paso’s economy by training small business owners and creating jobs. Over the next three years, the city is expected to boom with the anticipated influx of soldiers into Fort Bliss and with the expansion of manufacturing plants in Jurez, Mexico, located directly across the border from El Paso. “We wanted to educate small business owners and entrepreneurs about the many resources out there to finance their endeavors. Many think banks are the only option. People know that we provide car loans, but they don’t know that we now provide business loans, too,” said Moreno. The $1.2 billion GECU defines small businesses as those with sales of $10 million or less. Small business loan amounts range from $50,000 to $1 million. Moreno told the audience that GECU, which now has 265,000 members and 550 employees, began as a small business 73 years ago, with 11 people and a few dollars in a suitcase. Moreno’s “Financing Business Growth and Expansion” presentation covered a typical business life cycle and provided an overview on different types of capital providers. Although credit unions were mentioned, Moreno also explained venture companies, small business investment companies (SBICs), banks, and asset-based lenders, among others. The SBA and microlender ACCION Texas also presented during the session. No banks presented during the Summit, but several local banks were among the 22 lenders that participated in the “meet your lender” sessions. Deemed a “crash course on business basics” by one of the participants, other Summit topics included: writing a business plan, choosing a business structure and filing with the Secretary of State, exporting opportunities, corporate minority certification, payroll and business taxes and tax credits, health savings accounts, state procurement and a step-by-step explanation of the bidding process. A regional state bid fair, with 10 cooperating agencies, was on-site at the Summit. In addition to raising credit unions’ profile among Summit attendees, members of the El Paso community at large were able to learn about credit union small business services through a series of recent news articles, including an El Paso Times opinion editorial penned by Moreno. The highlight of the Summit was a luncheon appearance by Gov. Perry. “The reason I’m here today is simple,” he said. “Ninety percent of business in Texas is small business. When small business prospers, the economy prospers.” Gov. Perry spoke of Texas’ strong business climate, citing a not-too-burdensome regulatory environment, reasonable taxes and a fair and balanced legal system as contributing factors. He was most proud of increased investment in workforce training, with an additional $15 million in state funds budgeted toward a skills development fund. Representatives from Texas Credit Union League, GECU, and West Texas CU – including CEO and Texas Credit Union Commission member Rufino Carbajal, were also invited to a private reception with the Governor. Credit union participation in the reception, as well as in the Summit, likely is a result of credit unions’ increased stature with and grassroots support of Texas lawmakers, according to Allison Castle, TCUL communications director for advocacy. Small business owners also received a credit union “takeaway,” as CUNA’s “Launching Your Own Business” brochure was included in Summit attendees’ manuals. A second Small Business Summit is set for July 12 in San Antonio, where Randolph-Brooks Federal Credit Union has been asked to present the financing segment. -

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