Colorado reached an all-time high in the most recent fiscal year with $902 million in loans coming from the Small Business Administration. In El Paso County, the SBA provided 173 loans for a total of $101.8 million, an increase of $12.1 million from the year before.

That increase, said U.S. Small Business Administration Regional Communications Director Christopher Chavez, is at least in part due to higher real estate prices.

“There is a booming real estate market in El Paso County and the state of Colorado and that’s helping drive some of these numbers,” Chavez said. “The cost of real estate is going up, so loan sizes are going up.”

In the previous fiscal year, the SBA approved more loans [206] for El Paso County businesses but for a smaller amount [$89.7 million].

“Loans totaling $101 million is a lot for one county,” Chavez said.

El Paso County trailed only Denver County, which had 287 7(a) loans for $135 million. In Colorado, total SBA guaranteed loans numbered 1,758 worth $902 million, topping last year’s total by $75 million.

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“The number has increased steadily every year over the last seven years,” Chavez said.

Loans also reached record levels in the U.S. for the fiscal year recently completed (Oct. 1, 2016-Sept. 30, 2017) through the 7(a) and 504 loan programs.

In El Paso County, the SBA made 153 loans of the 7(a) variety during that period for a total of $78.6 million. There were 20 loans for $23.2 million for the 504 designation.

The 7(a) program provides small businesses with financial assistance to cover most expenses, including short- and long-term working capital, exports and refinancing existing debt under certain conditions.

The 504 loan program allows for long-term fixed financing for real estate and equipment.

“A lot of microbreweries use the 504, as they have to buy a lot of equipment,” Chavez said.

Chavez said the average loan for the most recent fiscal year in El Paso County was $588,000, much higher than the previous year of $435,000.

“Typically, to be approved for an SBA loan, a company has to prove sufficient cash flow and business viability … they are going to thriving businesses who are hiring people and adding value to El Paso County and the state of Colorado,” Chavez said. “And any business that is starting up is adding to the tax base of the community.”

Chavez said 97 percent of the companies in El Paso County qualify as small businesses.

“They are the fabric of the community,” he said.

He said the SBA is a great resource for businesses, as is the Pikes Peak Small Business Development Center.

“The SBDC and the SBA works a lot with veterans in El Paso County, helping them start businesses or transitioning,” Chavez said. “There are also very good lenders in El Paso County.”

Wells Fargo topped the list of lenders in El Paso County for 7(a) loans with 35 for $11.4 million.