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Op-Ed: In gratitude to our nation’s heroes

SBA District Director José Sifontes

Today is Veterans Day. And, in honor of the 23 million U.S. veterans that have watched over our safety and fought for our freedom, President Obama has declared the dates of Nov. 11-17 as National Veterans Awareness Week.

Looking closer to home, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs, in 2010 there were 116,029 veterans in Puerto Rico, of which 602 were participating in some type of vocational rehabilitation program.  To us at the U.S. Small Business Administration, the latter constitute a potential 602 new enterprises.

Veterans have proven they make significant contributions to the economy as business owners also, as they acquire unique technical and leadership skills through military service that are important elements of successful entrepreneurship.  As more soldiers return home and restore their lives, SBA wants to ensure they are aware of the opportunities available to them to help them embark on the path to small business ownership.

The SBA is the primary federal agency responsible for assisting veterans who own or are considering starting a small business.  The agency provides a wide-range of services in the areas of business counseling, training and technical assistance through a variety of resources partners, including the Puerto Rico Small Business and Technology Development Center, the Women’s Business Institute and the Puerto Rico SCORE Chapter.  Each year, all these resources together counsel and train over 10,000 aspiring and existing entrepreneurs on the island.

In addition, SBA has designed financial products specifically with the military community in mind.  Such is the case of the Patriot Express program, available to veterans, active duty personnel who are in the military’s Transition Assistance Program and all Reservists and National Guard members, their spouses and widowed spouses. Patriot Express loans carry an 85 percent SBA guarantee on loans up to $150,000 and a 75 percent guarantee on loans higher than $150,000 up to $500,000.

Patriot Express loans can be used for most business purposes, including start-up, expansion, equipment purchases, working capital, inventory or business-occupied real-estate purchases.

The SBA also has available the Military Reservist Economic Injury Disaster Loan (MREIDL) program, which provides funds for eligible small businesses to meet ordinary and necessary operating expenses they could have met, but are unable to meet because an essential employee was called to active duty in his/her role as a military reservist.

A small business can apply for an MREIDL on the date the essential employee receives notice of the expected call to active duty up to one year after he or she is discharged.  MREIDLs are available up to $2 million at a 4 percent interest rate, with terms up to a maximum of 30 years. Loans of $50,000 or less do not require collateral.

American author Cynthia Ozick once said that we often take for granted the very things that most deserve our gratitude.  No other words could ring as true.  Let’s take a moment this week to thank our service men and women, and provide them with the tools and resources they need to build a successful future.

Author Details
Author Details
Business reporter with 29 years of experience writing for weekly and daily newspapers, as well as trade publications in Puerto Rico. My list of former employers includes Caribbean Business, The San Juan Star, and the Puerto Rico Daily Sun, among others. My areas of expertise include telecommunications, technology, retail, agriculture, tourism, banking and most other segments of Puerto Rico’s economy.

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