The treasurer of the United States was on hand at an Astoria bank on Monday, touting it as a prime example of an Obama administration initiative to help small business.
Treasurer Rosie Rios was promoting the U.S. Treasury Department’s Small Business Lending Fund during a visit to the 31st Street branch of Alma Bank with Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Queens and the Bronx) and local city and state officials.
Alma, which has 10 branches including four in Queens, earlier this year received $19 million from the fund, and has been lending it to local customers when larger banks will not.
“Regional and community banks have an interest in the communities they represent because they are the communities they represent,” Rios said. “The small banks invest more in their communities and grow when their communities grow.”
Kirk Karabelas, chairman of the Board of Directors of Alma Bank, said community investment has been much of the bank’s mission since it opened in 2007.
He said upon receiving the infusion of SBLF funding. Alma was able to match it with privately-raised capital to suppport more than $13 million in loans.
“And in the pipeline we are working on another 26 loans worth $25 million,” he said.
Rios said small businesses employ about 50 percent of all U.S. workers, and will account for more than 60 percent of all new jobs.
“But small businesses can be at a disadvantage in getting access to capital,” Crowley said. Mike Rienzi offered himself as exhibit A.
Rienzi is president of Rienzi International, an importer of Italian food that is a staple in supermarket shelves.
Its American headquarters is on Steinway Street in Astoria.
“We’ve been in business 42 years,” Rienzi said. “But when I went to big banks for a loan — with collateral — Citibank, Chase, PNC, none of them would lend us money.”
Alma, he said, was ready to listen, and he now has 60 employees in Astoria.
Crowley believes first that bigger banks may be more concerned with their larger and overseas interests.
“Some people say maybe we shouldn’t have bailed them out — which I do not agree with — or we would have been risking a greater banking collapse,” Crowley said. “But we do have to work on ways to prod bigger banks to start lending money again.”
Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria), Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria) and state Sen. Mike Gianaris (D-Astoria) all said the SBL Fund can continue to have a vital impact in the area, particularly in areas with large immigrant populations. Gianaris added, however, that the state right now is not in a strong position to have a similar program of its own.
“Unfortunately, the state is caught in the same deficits as everyone else,” he said.