SBA administrator touts attention to business development

By David Cruz

Through five generations of Schroeders, the Atlas Refinery has been at this Lockwood Street location, near the Passaic River, extracting, treating, refining and selling leather oil products in 25 countries around the world, from China to Brazil. But, in 2008, as the global economy began to tank, the company faced a financial crisis. When their bank refused to loan them any money, Steve Schroeder Jr. turned to the Small Business Administration for help.

“That was our first deal with the SBA,” said the younger Schroeder. “It was a godsend. It got us out of our previous issue, got us back on our feet, let us focus on business, let us focus on restructuring and moving forward. Got us out of our previous issue, got us back on our feet, let us focus on business, let us focus on restructuring, and moving forward.”

Steve Jr. is standing with new SBA administrator, Linda McMahon, who was in Newark today as part of an effort by the agency to showcase the services it provides to businesses like Atlas, which has 20 employees here. On a tour of the plant today, Steve Sr. recounted the day in 2012 when Sandy almost destroyed a hundred years of work.

“When the water receded, you could see the line throughout the entire plant, where the water was,” remembered the elder Schroeder. “It was one of the saddest days of my life. I almost cried with our electrician in the office because we were totally, we were out of power … Our insurance on flood damage was minimal, on hurricane damage, physically, we had coverage, but not water damage, and this was 98 percent water damage.”

Facing their second financial crisis in four years, the company turned to the SBA again, which provided low-interest loans that helped Atlas recoup much of the cost of repairs, which had come out of the Schroeder’s pockets. McMahon noted that the agency has also often been the lender of last resort to homeowners facing disaster.

“Primarily, when the SBA comes in for its disaster relief program, it is helping businesses, but also homeowners get back on their feet,” said McMahon. “It’s the only time that SBA gets involved in home mortgages. We have the cash more readily available than any other agency, so we come in behind FEMA. Typically FEMA is first on the ground and they have grants that they can distribute but they typically have caps, but SBA is to come in, long-term.”

But the agency, despite some successes, was subject to criticism for its work post-Sandy. A Government Accountability Office report two years ago said the agency’s approval processes were very slow. McMahon says she can’t speak for what the agency did before she got here, but promised attention to detail and open communications as a way to keep the agency focused on its main job — helping small business like Atlas stay afloat for another generation to run.