After three years as Small Business Administration Deputy Administrator, Marie Johns decided two weeks ago to embark on what amounts to a farewell tour just prior to her departure.

So for more than five hours on May 23, she and a small entourage of Small Business Administration (SBA) employees crisscrossed the District of Columbia, to every quadrant of the city, and met with business owners who’ve benefited from SBA loans. In the last two years, Johns has overseen the distribution of $60 billion in loans to a range of businesses.

“We thought it would be a fun and interesting day and a cool thing to do as I transition out,” Johns said with a smile. “What we’re showing is that businesses come in all sizes. The tour highlights the great jobs and the fact that D.C. is a great place to do business.”

The SBA provides federal guarantees that gives financial institutions the ability to lend businesses anywhere from 15 to 85 percent of loans. In addition, Johns said, the agency offers a “rich curriculum of technology assets, entrepreneurial training and federal contracting in Hub Zones and through veteran’s programs.”

SBA officials chose seven businesses to highlight the range of services the agency offers.

“We wanted to give a real variety in terms of the businesses we visited from a home-based business to Wagshals,” said Antonio Doss, acting district director of the SBA’s Washington Metropolitan Area District Office. “It’s interesting to see where businesses are sometimes. We wanted to show the variety of great small businesses.”

Johns, a businesswoman and former mayoral candidate, was responsible for the agency’s 3,000 employees, 68 district offices and policy development and implementation affecting small businesses. Prior to joining the agency, she was president of Verizon Washington.

As she drove and walked all quadrants of the city, Johns spoke of the economic resurgence that’s transforming the nation’s capital, a city she acknowledged is one of her great loves.

“The economic renaissance is on H Street, U Street, in every corner of the city and it’s fueled by small business,” she said. “Two out of every three new jobs comes from small businesses. In every state there are powerful examples of people creating businesses. We’re doing all we can to help women, communities of color, veterans and young people with business starts and job creation. We’re developing new products to serve these communities. ”

Johns said the past two years have been record-breaking in terms of the loans, but added that SBA officials want to see more eligible businesspeople receive more small-dollar loans. To stimulate that, President Barack Obama has proposed waiving fees for loans of $150,000 or less.

Vietnam Veteran Willy Armstrong has become a Washington, D.C. institution with his home-based business where he makes custom signs, awnings and T-shirts. For 25 years, Armstrong Custom Signs has provided commercial signage for a host of clients in the District and elsewhere creating everything from lighted electrical signs, to vinyl and other types of banners, and silkscreens to vehicle lettering. In 2002, the SBA gave the company an SBA 7(a) loan for $15,000, and Armstrong used the loan to purchase machinery and equipment for his shop.

(Photo: Margaret “Muggy Do” Dickinson (left) and Sirkku M. Sky Hiltunen (right) with U.S. Small Business Administration Deputy Administrator Marie Johns in the Sammy Davis room at The Art & Drama Therapy Institute in Northeast on Thurs., May 23. Photo by Roy Lewis)

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