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Updated: April 15, 2024 On the Record

On the Record: SBA’s Sturgeon urges small businesses to borrow wisely, make a plan

Woman standing inside the Custom House PHOTO / JIM NEUGER Diane Sturgeon, the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Maine district director, travels across the state for her job. She is shown here at the U.S. Custom House in Portland, where the SBA has an office.

Diane Sturgeon, the Maine district director for the U.S. Small Business Administration, has a key role in Maine’s startup ecosystem. Mainebiz caught up with her to find out more about her career path, and how her team helps small businesses in the state.

Mainebiz: What services does the SBA’s Maine District provide?

Diane Sturgeon: We’re a one-stop shop for entrepreneurs who are looking for help starting or growing a business, dealing with a problem, or working on succession planning. Our goal is to get entrepreneurs in touch with the best resource to help them succeed, so we do a lot of marketing and outreach around programs and spend a lot of time making connections for small business owners.

MB: From your middle-school teaching days, what skills do you use in your job today?

DS: My time as a teacher helped me better understand how other people learn or process information and hopefully alter my communication style accordingly. Teaching exposed me to a wide variety of learners and gave me plenty of opportunity to develop my presentation skills and figure out how to keep an audience engaged.

I learned negotiation and sales skills as a teacher, and honestly, that role has helped me in every position I’ve ever held.

MB: After teaching, what triggered your move from banking to the SBA?

DS: While working for a community bank, I found my real passion in small business lending. There I worked closely with FAME [Finance Authority of Maine] and SBA, and with lenders to identify opportunities to provide capital to small businesses while mitigating the bank’s risk.

When the lender relations position opened up here, I saw it as an opportunity to expand my work with small businesses and help lenders statewide serve more entrepreneurs, and it gave me a great opportunity to incorporate some of my past experience as an educator, so I jumped.

MB: What can Maine do to make it easier for someone to start or expand a small business?

DS: We are lucky in Maine because there are so many incredible resources available at all levels, but entrepreneurs can become frustrated trying to find the right one. I wish we could develop a directory or database to match entrepreneurs with the resources more easily.

MB: To an aspiring entrepreneur in need of money, what’s your first piece of advice?

DS: Borrow wisely. Stay away from credit cards and quick cash lenders and plan. Figure out what you really need and work with a partner to identify a lender who can not only provide you with that money but work with you as you grow.

MB: To what extent are high interest rates hurting small businesses?

DS: It’s driving up payments on variable rate loans impacting their ability to manage debt or grow because cash flow is taken up repaying that debt. Businesses are still borrowing and growing — a bit more cautiously, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

But I want them to realize, if they speak with their lender or work with a resource provider, they may be able to restructure their debt to make it more manageable.

MB: How long will the Paycheck Protection Program loan forgiveness portal be open, and what do borrowers who haven’t yet applied need to know?

DS: The portal will remain open as long as there are loans that are eligible for forgiveness, so two years beyond the maturity date. For most loans, that’s five years from origination, but borrowers who have not had their loan forgiven shouldn’t wait.

They should get their application for forgiveness in now or visit MySBA on to begin the repayment process or work with the original lender.

MB: Are there any new SBA programs that small businesses should know about?

DS: We are working on some new loan guarantee programs for working capital lines of credit. Locally, we’re developing a new cohort-based training program based on a national program we’ve previously participated in adjusting it to better fit our Maine-based businesses and to be able to reach a broader audience. And our resource partners are always coming up with incredible new programs to help small businesses succeed.

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