Dan Nordberg (right)

Moab Mayor Emily Niehaus recently met with Dan Nordberg, Region VIII Administrator for the U.S. Small Business Administration, to discuss how to support local entrepreneurs. [Photo by Heila Ershadi / Moab Sun News]

What support would help Moab’s entrepreneurs and would-be entrepreneurs thrive as small business owners?

U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) Region VIII Administrator Dan Nordberg recently paid a visit to Moab to discuss this question and see if his office can be of assistance. His visit was linked to the SBA’s Rural Strong initiative to increase lending in smaller communities across the nation.

On Friday, Aug. 2, Nordberg sat down with Moab Mayor Emily Niehaus to discuss what his office and their partner agencies have to offer, as well as Moab’s particular needs. This was part of a tour by Nordberg throughout southern Utah to meet with elected officials, chambers of commerce and business development agencies in the region. Nordberg met with the Moab Chamber of Commerce later the same day.

Nordberg and Niehaus discussed small business development as key to diversifying Moab’s economy.

Nordberg said that every community is different, and the question he has is, “What can we do … to support your community in the best way possible?”

Niehaus laid out a list of barriers that she sees as hampering Moab’s entrepreneurs, which she described as being “as local as broadband and as national as health care,” including a lack of affordable housing, burdensome healthcare costs and few childcare options, as well as a need for business mentorship, office space and high speed internet.

“We’ve got complicated things on a national level to talk about if we’re going to be competitive in manufacturing,” she added.

Nordberg said he wants to “bridge the gap between urban and rural population centers,” that is, to ensure that small towns have the same access to the services that support small businesses as do the bigger cities.

Nordberg pointed to the SBA’s loan options that can help entrepreneurs get their ideas off the ground.

He said with SBA loans, the SBA guarantees a portion of the loan so the lending bank has less risk; in a conventional loan, the bank assumes all the risk that the money they have loaned out will be repaid.

He said the SBA offers loans to entrepreneurs who may not be eligible for a conventional loan. For example, they may not have a credit history, but they have a good idea.

In addition, Nordberg said, “There is an interest in putting in money, bringing in private capital, to opportunity zones.”

Opportunity zones are officially designated land tracts which are designed to attract development through tax incentives to investors who fund businesses in underserved communities.

Grand County has an opportunity zone that extends from the bridge at the north of town, through the heart of downtown, and south to Kane Creek Boulevard, according to Grand County Community and Economic Development Specialist Kaitlin Myers.

Niehaus shared her idea for connecting developers and entrepreneurs with investors in Grand County’s opportunity zone: an event that would bring them all together and provide a forum for ideas to be both pitched and heard. She likened the concept to “speed dating,” and said it would be a fun way to “connect the dots” in Moab.

Nordberg and Niehaus also discussed the existing resources for local entrepreneurs, such as Utah State University’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC), on the Moab campus at 125 W. 200 South, which Nordberg said, “serves as our point-of-entry counseling service for aspiring entrepreneurs.”

On its website, the SBDC states that it provides comprehensive business planning, market research, financial statement analysis, cash flow analysis, financial projections and other management consulting, as well as low-cost training workshops for any stage of business development.

Nordberg said that, in addition, a new resource is now available for Moab entrepreneurs: the Women’s Business Center of Utah’s Southern Office, located in Cedar City. It serves cities across southern Utah, including Moab. He and Niehaus discussed connecting local entrepreneurs with this agency.

Women’s Business Center Program Director Debbie Drake told the Moab Sun News that while they are focused primarily on women business owners, they “will help anyone who needs it.”

“Actually, roughly 10 percent of our clients are men,” she said.

Drake said her office provides one-on-one consultations to persons who want to start a business or need some help or direction on growing their business, as well as low or no-cost training on marketing, management, accounting, finding financial resources, government contracting and business plans.

Drake said her office is partners with USU-Moab’s Small Business Development Centers, as well as other business centers, chambers of commerce and higher education institutions.

“We meet regularly to coordinate our efforts and try to support each other and not duplicate efforts,” she said. “It is the mission of all of us to help the businesses in our communities.”