U.S. Small Business Administration gets new Regional Administrator for Northwest

“President Clinton has appointed Joann H. Francis, an attorney raised and educated in the Northwest, as the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Northwest Regional Administrator.Francis assumes the leadership role in the SBA’s Region X which includes Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska, and is responsible for delivery of the agency’s financial assistance, business development and counseling programs in the four states. Francis will be headquartered at SBA Northwest Region offices in Seattle.Joann Francis brings a wealth of experience to the SBA – as an attorney and business owner – and also as a manager and an expert in the fields of public finance, employment law, procurement and contracting, and federal, state, and local regulatory issues, said SBA Administrator Aida Alvarez. Her record has been one of extensive professional and community involvement and her familiarity with both the region and the needs of the small business community will make her a highly effective regional administrator.As regional administrator, Francis said she sees her principal role as helping the directors of the five district offices in the region, as well as increasing the visibility of the SBA, its outreach and education.As much as the SBA has changed, some still see it as a place of last resort, instead of the first stop, Francis said. I can open some doors that, perhaps, others haven’t thought of, and go into some communities that haven’t been made aware of what SBA has to offer.Francis said she is hoping to partner with other public and private sector entities to leverage all available resources, and integrate services. She recently attended a rural roundtable in Alaska with other federal, state and local organizations and agencies. The roundtable helped raise awareness of what each has to offer, she said, and discussion centered about how to make the best of the combined resources.In Tacoma, the SBA’s One Stop Capital Shop will be moving later this year from a temporary office on the fourth floor of Key Bank Plaza. Francis said she is hoping to be able to take advantage of that move to make the SBA more accessible in Tacoma, with easier parking, and with permanent staffing in place.In many ways, I expect to use it as a mini-district office where there are any number of types of assistance accessed through that office so people don’t have to travel to Seattle, Francis said. She added an emphasis on SBA HUBZones, or historically underutilized business zone programs, women and minority-owned businesses, and high-tech business growth are all likely for the agency in Tacoma.People are definitely beginning to see Tacoma as a new market, Francis said. There are great opportunities there.Francis said as an African-American woman and a product of the civil rights movement, she views entrepreneurship as a means to create empowerment, economic and social justice. Changing demographics, she said, show an expansion of small businesses is going to occur among women and minorities. Lowering obstacles and removing barriers to woman and minorities entering into business is an investment in the future economic base.I’m very committed to making people aware of opportunities and giving them the chance to take advantage of opportunities, Francis said. I’ve owned my own business, and I know what obstacles are faced by women and minorities.Francis traveled to China in March as part of an international trade delegation, along with Port of Tacoma Commission President Clare Petrich. She found there were companies in China interested in forming partnerships with businesses here in the import/export trade.One other thing that was very intriguing on the trip was learning a number of countries, Egypt, Nigeria and others, were interested in modeling and developing entrepreneur programs in their countries, Francis said. They are very interested in the SBA being a model.During her tenure with SBA, Francis said she would like to see an increase in services and loans to new markets – minorities, women, and companies located in economically depressed areas.The opportunity to become successful through entrepreneurship is important, Francis said. It provides a feeling of power – it’s creative and innovative, and for some people a challenge.As regional administrator, Francis is responsible for overseeing a $2 billion portfolio of loan guarantees and investments, from micro-loans to venture capital. The SBA maintains over 500 private sector lenders and venture capital firms as partners in provision of capital to small and mid-sized companies.The SBA also provides business counseling, training and other technical assistance to the small business community through Business Information Centers, One-Stop Capital Shops, Export Assistance Centers, the Service Corps of Retired Executives, the Small Business Development Centers, and Women’s Business Centers. In the fiscal 1999, the Northwest Region of SBA provided technical assistance to over 76,000 new and emerging businesses, according to agency statistics. The agency’s web site receives over six million hits weekly.Francis has over 20 years experience as an attorney, and has been a partner in the firm of Foster Pepper & Shefelman PLLC for the past four years. She chaired the firm’s Employment and Labor Practice Group, and worked with new and emerging businesses as well as Fortune 500 companies. She is a nationally recognized bond attorney and was a member of the firm’s Municipal and Public Finance Group.Francis is also co-founder of the Washington Consulting Group, Inc., and served as its director, general counsel and vice president of business development. WCG specializes in developing and administering diversity programs for government and corporations.”