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New SBA Administrator Ready to Tackle ‘Chief Evangelist’ Role

The new Western regional administrator for the Small Business Administration can relate to what many small business owners are dealing with — she was in their shoes at one time.

Donna Davis stopped off in San Diego recently to check on the troops in the area and to promote the agency.

For about 14 years through 2009, Davis was president of DIR Group, a Scottsdale, Ariz., events management and speakers bureau. At its peak, it did about $10 million in revenue and had 11 employees, she said.

“Having been a small business owner and entrepreneur myself, I know some of the obstacles they must deal with,” Davis said. “I’ve also traveled to Washington, D.C., talked with lots of officials … and am well-versed on their perspective.”

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Now she’s one of those top officials. As administrator for Region IX, Davis, 54, oversees the SBA’s operations in Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada and Guam. The job means lots of air travel and being a quick study on many issues.

Davis said her job involves not only ensuring things are operating correctly but also being a “chief evangelist,” promoting what the SBA is to small businesses and how they may avail themselves of its loan programs.

One of the key segments that Davis is intent on helping is military veterans who are making the transition to the private sector. The SBA Express Loan program provides loans up to $350,000 with fees waived for veterans.

Asked for what her take was on criticism that many lenders have abandoned or severely curtailed small business lending, Davis said that may have been true a few years ago, but is no longer the case.

“I think the small business entrepreneur community is healthier now,” she said. “The market has turned around; real estate is rebounding; and all these elements collectively are helping. … Everything is starting to fire on all cylinders, which makes it more attractive for banks to make loans.”

The San Diego SBA district, which includes Imperial County, had one of its most successful years in fiscal 2013 that ended Sept. 30, 2013. For the 12 months, the district approved 656 loans for a gross loan total of $345 million, compared with 612 loans approved in fiscal 2012 for a gross amount of $312 million.

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CB&T net profit rises 10 percent: California Bank & Trust, the area’s largest lender with nearly $11 billion in assets, reported net income of $140.1 million for 2013, up 10.2 percent from 2012’s net income.

The subsidiary bank of Zions Bancorporation of Salt Lake City said the higher profit last year was due mainly to its loan portfolio growing by $485 million, improved loan performance that enabled a reduction in reserves, and reduced losses on securities sales.

The bank said loan growth came mainly from commercial loans, from all the bank’s markets and across a wide variety of industries. It operates 95 branches in California, including 25 in San Diego County.

Asset quality was good but got better as the year wore on, Chief Financial Officer Eric Ellingsen said. He said loan charge-offs — or writing off bad loans — stood at minus 0.003 percent of average loans, meaning a slight net increase in net recoveries. For 2012, net charge-offs were 0.3 percent of average loans.

Excluding the loans CB&T took when it acquired two failed banks several years ago, the bank’s nonperforming loans stood at 1.27 percent of total loans as of Dec. 31, 2013, compared with 1.66 percent of total loans at the end of 2012.

Because loans from the failed banks were performing better than expected, the bank moved nearly $17 million from its loan loss reserves, which boosted the bottom line profits, Ellingsen said.

Last year, the bank expanded its headquarters office in Carmel Valley by leasing two floors in an office across the street from its Torrey Reserve head office. Together, the offices have 97 employees. All told, CB&T has 550 employees in the county. CEO David Blackford splits his time between this office and one in Irvine. Market president Tory Nixon is based at a University Towne Center office.

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Small Change: Opus Bank, with five offices in the county, said it’s expanding its merchant bank by forming a new corporate finance division and a new private equity group. … The San Diego Tech Coast Angels invested $3 million in 10 companies during the fourth quarter of last year, the group said. That brought the total invested by the local angels chapter to $7.3 million, which exceeded the group’s goal by 40 percent. … The SBA national ombudsman, Brian Castro, stopped off in San Diego last week to discuss regulatory issues impacting small business. The idea behind the meeting was to give small business borrowers a forum to air their concerns as a way to reduce regulatory burdens.

Send news about locally based financial institutions to Mike Allen via email at mallen@sdbj.com. He can be reached at 858-277-6359.

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