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SBA Administrator Isabel Guzman and Jennifer Gomez-Hardy, one half of the ownership group for Lou & Choo's Lounge in Nicetown. Photo: Alan Nuñez/AL DÍA News.
SBA Administrator Isabel Guzman visited Philly on Aug. 1 to spread awareness on a new digital literacy program for small businesses, and to check in on the ongoing impact of the administration's work. Photo: Alan Nuñez/AL DÍA News.

“There’s still opportunities.” SBA Administrator Isabel Guzman offers bright outlook for small biz in Philly visit

On Aug. 1, Isabel Guzman was in town to see the progress of the SBA’s many small business relief programs as the pandemic and inflation still loom.

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On Aug. 1, 2022, U.S. Small Business Administrator Isabel Guzman was back in Philadelphia for another visit to check up on the progress of the SBA’s many relief programs and initiatives, and drive home the importance of the digital space to the future of U.S. small business.

The latter topic is what started her day in Center City at the Pipeline Philly coworking space. There, she took part in a panel discussion alongside other business leaders in the city focusing on how digital platforms are vital in this day and age to small business growth and survival.

The panel was also sponsored by the Small Business Digital Alliance (SBDA), a partnership launched in February 2022 by the SBA and national nonprofit Business Forward to connect with, train and provide digital tools to small business owners across the country so they can grow their operations using digital networks. The services are also free of charge.'

When speaking on the panel, Guzman highlighted how the pandemic forced entrepreneurs and small businesses to embrace the digital sphere to stay afloat.

“Digital tools and E-commerce really helped small businesses survive during the pandemic and gave them an additional source of revenue,” she said. “Community partnerships, like those the SBA has made with Business Forward to set up the SBDA, can only serve to make small businesses stronger in a highly competitive market.”

Guzman’s next stop was in Nicetown at Lou & Choo’s Lounge. A longtime eatery and bar in the neighborhood, Lou & Choo’s was founded in 1982, but is now under the ownership of Tracy Hardy and Jennifer Gomez-Hardy. Both sat down for a conversation with the SBA Administrator upon her visit.

Under the Hardys’ leadership and with help from an SBA COVID-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) and its Paycheck Protection Protection (PPP) program, pro Lou & Choo’s was able to navigate and stay open as the neighborhood spot it’s always been. The business was also able to add more to its outdoor seating arrangement, known as ‘the yard.’

“Small eateries like Lou & Choo’s are anchors for their communities. They are the ones who put back into their communities on a much more personal scale than large corporations because they are more than businesses, they’re neighbors,” said Guzman.

In a quick sit-down with AL DÍA in Lou & Choo’s yard, she also spoke about the importance of her visiting small businesses, especially given all the relief the SBA has provided in the last two-plus years.

“First and foremost, the SBA has scaled dramatically to support so many businesses during this time, but we know that inequities still exist,” said Guzman. “So it's really important that I'm able to hear directly from small businesses to see how they've been able to access SBA programs… and then as well, what's needed for them to continue to grow their businesses into the future and create jobs in communities.”

Speaking of small business growth, given the ongoing pandemic and rise of inflation, it may seem like a rough environment to expand or even start an operation. But Guzman still sees plenty of opportunities as a result of bills passed by the Biden administration.

For one, with the passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, she highlighted the historic investment into government contracts for infrastructure projects.

“There's opportunities for small businesses to go after those contract opportunities and grow,” said Guzman.    

However, she did drive home the importance of getting “capital ready” and “digital ready” given the new marketplace created by the pandemic.

“I think that right now, as anytime, is a great time to start a business, but you need to arm yourself with the skills to be successful,” said Guzman.

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