SBA lending in Alaska triples, employment benefit murky

Posted: Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Government-backed lending to Alaska small businesses has nearly tripled in the first two quarters of fiscal year 2010 compared to 2009, but quantifying the effect on the job market isn't as clear.

For the second quarter ended March 31, Small Business Administration lending in Alaska was $27.1 million versus $10.3 million in 2009.

A written SBA release says 1,394 jobs have been "created or retained" in Alaska since President Barack Obama signed the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act last February, otherwise known as the stimulus bill.

However, SBA spokesman Sam Dickey said he was not sure how that jobs figure was calculated. Determining the number of jobs attributable to the stimulus bill has been a tough metric to pinpoint, especially as the U.S. unemployment rate hovers around 9.7 percent versus 7.7 percent in January 2009.

According to, the federal government's Web site to track stimulus spending, Alaska has received more than $1.4 billion in contracts, grants and loans under the stimulus bill and credits 1,496 jobs to that spending through Dec. 31.

For the purposes of SBA lending, Dickey said the department must rely on reporting from recipients and banks, and jobs data isn't always complete.

Three categories are used to measure jobs related to SBA lending: retained, existing and new. For Alaska, Dickey reported 380 retained jobs, 225 new jobs and 564 existing jobs funded through SBA lending.

A retained job is defined as a job at a business that receives an SBA loan and is not the same as an existing job, which mostly applies to seasonal businesses. For example, a gift shop owner who receives an SBA loan would count his employees as existing jobs when he closes up at the end of tourism season rather than as a retained job.

Of the $27.1 million in SBA lending, $2.7 million went to new businesses and $24.4 million to existing businesses. A larger number of loans, 39, went to rural businesses versus 34 to urban businesses. The total volume was larger for urban businesses, $15.9 million, compared to $11.8 million for rural.

The stimulus bill increased the federal loan guarantee to 90 percent and waived guaranty fees to incentivize lending and save borrowers money. Anchorage was the largest recipient in total loans, 30, and volume, $15.5 million.

Juneau was second in loans with 10; Kenai Peninsula Borough was second in volume with $2.6 million; and Matanuska-Susitna Borough was third in volume with $2.1 million. Ketchikan Gateway Borough ($2 million) and Aleutians West Borough ($1.6 million) also topped $1 million in loan volume.

The top SBA lender by volume was Alaska Growth Capital Bidco Inc. with $11.9 million, followed by Wells Fargo with $4 million. The top SBA lender by number of loans was Juneau-based Alaska Pacific Bank with 20 loans totaling $1.9 million.

Alaska's unemployment rate for March remained unchanged at 8.6 percent, still below the national average and No. 21 among states.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics reflect a huge anomaly in the Alaska workforce for the December-March period. According to BLS, Alaska has added nearly 2,700 jobs in those four months.

Alaska Department of Labor economist Neal Fried Fried, who prepares the state data for BLS, said the wild fluctuation is because the national seasonal adjustment formula that works for most state models doesn't work in Alaska.

"It works fine with diverse, non-seasonal economies," he said. "Seasonal adjustment is not working well for us."

Even factoring in the difficulty applying national seasonal factors to Alaska, the jobs data spike is unusual. During the boom years for the national and state economies, BLS data shows Alaska added 1,400 jobs over the same period in 2004-05 and 1,500 during 2005-06.

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