LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Struggles with banks and financing, plus the increasingly complicated burden of tax codes were among the top issues brought to the table by area businesswomen on a panel with U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan Friday.
A member of the House Ways and Means Committee, Buchanan asked the businesswomen about tax reform. Their responses varied except for a plea for simplification and an end to last minute changes.
"How do you grow the business with such absurdity and such a short period of time?" asked Trudy Moon, president and co-owner of Air & Energy of Holmes Beach. "I really would like to see it simplified. Should I buy the trucks that you're going to allow me to write off or should I wait because you're going to change that rule on me? I like the idea of making it less cumbersome."
But more than the tax code, it seems, banks have put a damper on economic recovery.
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"We bank with Bank of America, and they called our line of credit and gave us two weeks to pay off half a million dollars," said Janet Mixon, co-owner of the fruit farm turned attraction. "We have an actual loan with them at six and a half percent. We're trying to get it changed and they're not working with
us at all. They're not helping. To take the same loan and make it at market rate saves a whole lot of money and they don't want to do that. I think they should be a little more willing to work with us because we're always on time; we're always good for what we borrowed."
Those in construction-related firms were hit particularly hard by the economic downturn, however it was the relationship with banks and the ability to maintain or build new financial relationships that limited growth and development for the entrepreneurs.
"Our company inspects job sites out there around the Gulf Coast and there aren't that many job sites out there any more," said Lee-En Chung, founder and consulting engineer with Ivy Ventures. "If we had more construction financing out there, there could be a stimulus for more construction jobs."
Buchanan seemed surprised at the comment.
"There is a lot more activity than I saw a year ago," Buchanan said. "But do you see banks loosening up at all? You've got to have viable community banks giving access to investors if you're going to have growth."
Mary Forristall, president and co-founder of Forristall Enterprises Inc., a Palmetto contracting firm specializing in demolition, said her company's relationship with a community bank, rather than a reliance on one of the big national banks has helped her company stay afloat.
"It's been our philosophy to establish relationships with a local community bank and it's paid off for us," she said. "I kind of wonder, though, how much of our ability to stay liquid is because we're in business 23 years, we're established, they know who we are. I don't know if a younger company or a start-up would be able to get any financing."
Ivy Ventures owns land in eastern Manatee County where they want to build a warehouse that would include space for other businesses as well, but the company has been unable to find a bank willing to finance construction without pre-lease contracts in place.
"The banks, I feel, don't want to end up with raw land or half a building," said Chung. "The banks are looking for 50 percent owner-occupied space and we're not moving into the industrial warehouse, but we can create jobs in Manatee County."
Dee Graham, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 7027, or tweet @DeeGrahamBH.