Savannah business community readies report for President

By Don Logana - bio | email

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - What do small businesses need to survive? It's a question the White House posed to Savannah mayor Otis Johnson.

Monday morning, city and business leaders got an ear full from small business owners and banks.

The biggest challenge small businesses face is fast access to loans. Community banks say they don't have the money to give, and say big banks are not lending. It was just the first issue to start the hour and a half long feedback session, aimed at getting a report in the President's hands by Tuesday.

"When the White House calls, you respond," mayor Johnson said.

Mayor Johnson got the call Friday. By Monday, he had 35 small business owners and community banks gathered for an economic feedback session.

"We got the call Friday afternoon and we got done in three days what some communities would take a month to do," Johnson said.

With help from the Greater Savannah Area Chamber of Commerce, the meeting became a brainstorming effort, as several needs of Savannah were hilighted, including quicker access to loans and funding to community banks, easier access to stimulus funds for the city rather than waiting on the state to give out money and more tax incentives for small businesses.

"They can not pay their workers or buy supplies for products, so quicker and more access to capital is number one," Johnson said.

"None of the local businesses benefited from the bailout money given out to financial institutions," Robert James, president of Carver State Bank, told WTOC.

James says the loan issue is crucial in supporting small business growth. He's hoping the President allows the next round of TARP funding to go to local banks.

"If there are funds available to community banks, we will loan the money to local business who need the money in this local economy," James said.

One by one, business leaders spoke their minds, from green business to job creation. "We had a rich rich conversation," Johnson said.

They touched on a few long-term projects they hope the White House embraces, including a high-speed rail system between Savannah and Atlanta. "I think it is time to revisit that, but it is a long term goal. Immediate access to capital is an immediate issue," Johnson said.

All the ideas were written out in marker, and will be condensed to a final report, ready for the President's eyes. "I think we have a document that will be of value to the White House when they get here tomorrow," Johnson said.

The Mayor says he will hand deliver the report to President Obama on Tuesday. He says the process is one other mayors have been asked to do.

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