Businesses owned by women, minorities and veterans took out a record number of Small Business Administration loans in 2007, and analysts said Utah's hot economic climate was among the main reasons for the historic rise.

Women were approved for 410 loans totaling $40.1 million, minorities received 229 loans for $49 million and veterans got 133 loans for $17.6 million, according to the SBA. The $106.7 million total represents about 26 percent of all SBA loans in the Utah district for the fiscal year.

The SBA Utah approved the guaranty of 2,990 loans to small businesses, up 39 percent from last year — the largest percentage increase of any district office in the nation.

"The SBA as a rule has always tried to service what we call underserved markets, but it does require the lenders to be willing to participate and willing to make those loans," said Steve Price, deputy district director for the U.S. Small Business Administration Utah District.

"Small businesses as a group create most of the new jobs in the country and put forth most of the innovation," Price said. "Women start new businesses at a rate of about two to one over men, and the minority business groups are some of the fastest growing business groups, so it makes sense that they would have record numbers of loans."

The number of all SBA loans made in Utah in 2007 jumped 283 percent from the loans made five years ago, going from 780 in 2002 to nearly 3,000 this year.

In total, the amount of money provided through loans by local lenders was $408.6 million in the SBA's 2007 fiscal year, which ran from October 2006 to September 2007.

Zions Bank ranked first in the number of SBA loans approved for 14 consecutive years through 2007, with 935 loans totaling almost $73 million. However, Mountain West Small Business Finance led in total dollars approved, with $130.2 million in 229 loans.

"We have clients of all sizes, but we know that small business is one of the key drivers of our economy," said C.C. Mitchell, Zions Bank vice president and manager of its resource center working with SBA loans. "We as a bank have targeted those underserved markets, whether it be women, (members of) the Latino population or those in lower income areas."

Mitchell said Zions has dedicated branches targeting the state's burgeoning Hispanic community, with loan officers who are bilingual and can offer personalized service to entrepreneurs who are still learning the U.S. business landscape.

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