Region’s small business champion reflects on four years of successes for local entrepreneurs

Natalia Olson

The New Year is a time of reflection for us all.  For me, and the 180 SBA offices; SCORE chapters; Business Development Centers and other SBA resources I oversee in SBA’s Mid-Atlantic Region, this is an especially poignant time as I say goodbye to the many wonderful small business advocates and entrepreneurs I’ve met during my tenure as President Obama’s appointee to lead business development here.

In these four-plus years, I’ve put more than 50,000 miles on my personal vehicle, and untold more in plane, rental car and rail miles to visit as many regional partners and small business owners as I possibly could.  My goal was to learn from each one, to see what we were doing right, what we were doing wrong, and what we weren’t doing at all to help them grow our economy.  Each entrepreneur’s and partner’s story rings of a conviction to make a better life for families and communities, and I’ve learned so much from each encounter.

One such business I visited that is a true example of fulfilling the American Dream of starting a successful business is First State Manufacturing in Milford, Delaware.

First State Manufacturing began in 1998 “with one garage, one man, one woman, one sewing machine, and one dream.” Today that dream is a thriving six million dollar a year business employing more nearly 100 technicians working on state of the art equipment in a new 66,000 square foot facility funded by a $650,000 SBA backed 504 loan.

While stationed in Germany, Eli Valenzuela took an upholstery correspondence course that led to a second career, and then to ownership of a multi-million dollar a year business.  After moving to Delaware in 1990 to care for a family member, was hired to as a C-5 cargo aircraft upholsterer at Dover Air Force Base.  He saw how much taxpayers paid for the contract work on the C-5, and knew how to provide a better product at a better cost.

With the help of SBA resource partners SCORE and the Small Business Technology and Development Center Eli and his wife created a business plan and opened First State Manufacturing.  Rapidly outgrowing the garage, they secured a $20,000 SBA Express loan and leased 2,000 square foot of warehouse space.

True to their expectations the Valenzuela’s business grew rapidly, and with the assistance of the local Procurement Technical Assistance Center, secured more and larger contracts. They applied for and were granted SBA 8(a) certification allowing them to leverage a number of long term contracts received and expanded their business to include military and commercial contracts throughout the United States.

A $96,500 SBA-backed 7(a) loan helped modernize and expand their offerings and Eli found more opportunities with restaurant and hotel chains across the nation and trademarked an environmentally-friendly seating product. First State Manufacturing has been honored as the Delaware SBA Small Business of the Year, and the National SBA 8(a) Graduate of the Year. First State Manufacturing is one of many successes in Delaware.  In the state during Fiscal Year 2016, SBA guaranteed in excess of $69.4M in loans contributing to retaining and creation of an estimated 1,319 jobs, trained 332 Delaware small businesses on how to win federal contracts, and assisted 2,897 clients through customized counseling and training events.

I’m proud of the accomplishments of the small businesses and of SBA in Delaware. We are, after all, the only federal agency specifically created to help entrepreneurs get going, growing, and hiring.  As I like to say, “Business is our middle name.”  Our capable and eager business and lending specialists look forward to helping you with your entrepreneurial dream in 2017.