Brookings Recommends New Focus for SBA’s Small Business Investment Corp Program

July 11, 2019

Editor’s note: CPA is advising Chairman Marco Rubio in his capacity as Chairman of the Senate Small Business Committee. An upcoming Small Business Administration reauthorization bill is likely to have substantial pro-America changes.

On June 26, 2019, Mark Muro, Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program submitted testimony to the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship regarding the “Reauthorization of SBA’s Small Business Investment Company Program,” and particularly on how the Small Business Investment Company (SBIC) program can better support America’s advanced industries.

[Michele Nash-Hoff | July 10, 2019 | savingusmanufacturing.com]

Mr. Muro’s expertise is in America’s advanced industry sector, which are the high-productivity, high-pay innovation industries that anchor American competitiveness and are critical to America’s prosperity.
In his testimony, Mr. Muro wrote that advanced industries are identified using two criteria and must meet both criteria to be considered advanced:

  • “industry’s R&D spending per worker must fall in the 80th percentile of industries or higher, exceeding $450 per worker
  • The share of workers in an industry whose occupations require a high degree of STEM knowledge must also be above the national average, or 21 percent of all workers” 

He explained, “Based on this definition, the U.S. advanced industries sector encompasses 50 diverse industries, including 3 energy, 35 manufacturing, and 12 service industries. These prime industries include manufacturing industries such as automaking, aerospace, pharmaceuticals, and semiconductors; energy industries such as oil and gas extraction and renewables; and critical service activities such as R&D services, software design, and telecommunications.”
He wrote, Advance industries matter because they “are in many respects the nation’s core sources of prosperity and economic preeminence.” Specifically, the advanced industries sector:

  • Encompasses many of the nation’s most crucial industries
  • Represents a key site of innovative activity
  • Trains and employs much of the nation’s STEM workforce 

In addition, “its sizable advanced manufacturing sub-sector—delivers critical, specific, under recognized value to the nation and its people and places:”

  • Employment – “In 2018, the 50 advanced industries in the United States employed 14 million U.S. workers, or nearly 10%of total employment. Of that, the 35 advanced manufacturing industries contributed 5.7million jobs and 4% of U.S. employment.”
  • GDP – “U.S. advanced industries generate $3.7 trillion worth of output annually, or 18.5% of U.S. GDP in 2018…advanced manufacturing was a particularly sizable contributor of $1.4trillion worth of U.S. output.”
  • Productivity – “Each worker generated approximately $260,000 worth of output compared with $120,000 for the average worker outside advanced industries.3For the advanced manufacturing sub-sector the figure is $250,000.”
  • Pay – “In 2018, the average advanced industries worker earned $103,000 in total compensation, double the $51,000 earned by the average worker in other sectors. And real absolute earnings in advanced industries grew by 63 percent between 1975 and 2013, compared with just 17 percent for other workers…”
  • Multipliers – “Every new advanced industry job creates 2.2 jobs domestically—0.8 jobs locally and 1.4 jobs outside of the region…On average in other industries, new jobs create only one additional domestic job—0.4 jobs locally and 0.6 jobs outside the region.”
  • Innovation – “Advanced industries perform 90%of all private-sector R&D and develop approximately 82%of all U.S. patents.” 

Muro explained that these advanced industries need government financial support because “there is now abundant evidence that the primacy of America’s advanced industries, and especially its advanced manufacturing sector, is being aggressively contested—and eroding.”
The challenge is succeeding because China and other competitor nations “are accelerating their investments in the key inputs to advanced-sector competitiveness—basic and applied research and development (R&D), STEM worker development, regional supply chain deepening—just as the U.S. commitment has weakened.”
He asserted, “As a result, the future competitiveness of the U.S. advanced industries sector has become uncertain because the United States is losing ground on important measures of advanced industry competitiveness.” In fact, “the U.S. has since 2000 run negative trade balances with both China and the world on advanced technology products, with the deficit continuing to grow.”
“On innovation, for example, the U.S. share of global patenting and R&D is falling much faster than its share of global GDP and population. While the U.S. lost 1.6 percentage points in its share of world population between 1981and 2016, its shares of global patenting and R&D spending both fell by over 15 percentage points.”
He pointed out that “when the ‘Made in China 2025’ industrial policy implies direct support to thousands of firms through state funding, low-interest loans, tax breaks, and other subsidies to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars according to third-party estimates, U.S. advanced manufacturing firms—especially smaller ones—struggle to access affordable capital.”  
He added that “while the United States has the most developed venture capital (VC) system in the world, that system remains difficult to access for manufacturing firms…the natural biases of VC and other capital sources skew the existing small-firm finance system far away from capital-intensive manufacturing enterprises and are leaving them to face a debilitating lack of access to critical finance in the United States.”
Because “innovative firms engaged in complex, advanced manufacturing production require greater capital and more time to make a profit than non-production firms…most existing small-firm finance sources (especially venture capital) default to the low-risk, high-reward nature of digital start-ups and stay away from the longer profit horizons of manufacturing.”
He explained that “Tech” companies, after all, can produce fast-turnaround, consumer-facing products with little-to-no physical infrastructure. Advanced manufacturing firms, by contrast, require much more time, risk, and capital to develop products, bring them to market, and achieve scale, ensuring they get fewer VC opportunities.”
He concluded that “acute capital shortfalls are likely hobbling the ability of smaller advanced manufacturing concerns to grow their operations, contribute to local supply-chain deepening, and enhance U.S. competitiveness, community by community.”
Next, his testimony focused on how the SBIC could offer the ideal tool for assisting advanced manufacturing concerns in the coming years.  However, the current SBIC program has “several limitations that prevent it from investing as helpfully in growth as it might.” He stated that “the lack of sectoral specificity in SBIC loan-making means that public funds are not always channeled toward the highest public benefit—most notably that of advanced industries…[and} its repayment structure, which begins immediately and is comprised of an SBA annual charge plus interest due semiannually, is not conducive to the nature of the longer-term product development timelines that advanced manufacturing firms require. In general, the SBIC’s offerings are not “patient” enough to optimally support advanced manufacturing business models.”
In order for the SBIC to help fill the void and maximize the program’s benefit to U.S. competitiveness through the support of U.S. advanced industries, he recommended that policymakers should:

  • “Explicitly prioritize advanced manufacturing growth in the SBIC’s equity capital toolbox.”
  • “Encourage robust and patient capital in SBIC funding.” 

He explained that these actions are needed because “advanced-sector production enterprises are not specifically mentioned in program policies and criteria. They should be, because as of now they are losing out.” And “currently the program favors low-risk, high-reward, relatively short-term enterprises, which discriminates against advanced manufacturing concerns.
Accordingly, the committee should amend the Small Business Act to create within the existing SBIC a program that will offer preferred financing terms to VC firms that invest in advanced manufacturing firms. To determine eligibility for participation in this funding activity. manufacturers’ ‘advanced’ status could be confirmed by their location in designated NAICS codes, employing the same definitional methodology and industry list as employed in this testimony…Funding, therefore, should be growth-oriented, as much as possible—not time-bound. Changes can include tying repayments to a percentage royalty from sales, as well as denoting full repayment as a multiple of the original loan amount, rather using the current fixed payment-plus-interest model.”
In conclusion, he stated, “American’s medium-and long-term competitiveness and economic prosperity will be determined by success in a few select, but significant, industrial sectors: namely, the nation’s advanced manufacturing, energy, and digital industries. Success or failure there, meanwhile, will be determined by our choices, both what we choose to do and choose not to do, in world of state competition for valuable industries. Fortunately, one tool for which we can make good choices is the SBA’s SBIC program. Given its important role in enterprise finance, it is well worth the time and effort to make sure it is optimized to serve as a tool for national competitiveness. If rigorously targeted to investment in America’s advanced manufacturing sector, it will absolutely help us reassert national competitiveness, support vibrant communities, and promote dignified work.”
I’ve worked in the advanced manufacturing sector my whole career and was part of the team of a startup technology-based manufacturing company in the past. I’ve been a volunteer mentor for startup entrepreneurs for the San Diego Inventors Forum for the past ten years and was also a mentor for entrepreneurs in the CONNECT Springboard program simultaneously for three years. I know how hard it is for entrepreneurs to raise seed capital, but the crowd funding programs such as Kickstarter and IndieGoGo are greatly helping.I’ve seen entrepreneurs raise all the money they needed to get their product into the marketplace, but it’s raising the funds to scale up to full production that is the problem.Investors are looking for quick profits or the kind of company that will be able to do an IPO rapidly.I believe that the Brookings recommendations for expanding the scope of the SBA SBIC program will be beneficial in helping to rebuild America’s advanced manufacturing sector.

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