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Man's efforts to aid business owners no small feat
By JOE D. STEVENSON, Californian business columnist
Saturday July 26, 2003, 03:55:09 PM

Some people may think of Keith Brice (Click photo to enlarge) as a rich uncle, because they are always asking him for money. It turns out that he isn't rich, but he is able to grant many of those requests because he has a rich uncle named Small Business Administration, also known as SBA.

Brice has been so successful at lending his "uncle's" money that he recently was named Financial Service Advocate of the Year of the Central Valley District of the Small Business Administration.

He was honored for his efforts in helping small businesses grow and thus creating more jobs.

Brice is president of Mid State Development Corp., certified by the Small Business Administration to broker 504 loans.

John Pryor, chairman of the board of Mid State, nominated Brice for the honor.

"Our focus is to help small businesses help themselves, to help them succeed," Brice said.

A 504 loan is a shared arrangement, with the client's bank providing a minimum of 50 percent of the total, the SBA providing 40 percent, with the remaining 10 percent represented by cash, property or equipment owned by the borrower.

Brice points out that the association's share is limited to $1.3 million. The SBA share is a 20-year loan, with the bank's share generally over a shorter term but with an interest rate about 1 percent higher than SBA. The SBA rate, set monthly, is 5.8 percent for July. Brice points that the merged loans save the client money, both on the split interest and the possibility the bank's rate could drop in the future.

Mid State has approved 23 projects during the fiscal year, with a backlog of another 30 in the pipeline. He expects to have 40 on board by the time the fiscal year ends in September. He proudly points out that some 200 new jobs will have been created. The contracts will represent an infusion of about $25 million into small business in Kern County.

He says the typical client is a firm that has been in business four or five years and has outgrown its facilities or needs to modernize its equipment.

"We tend to have a petty good mix in our portfolio," he said, noting a range from health and dental services to construction. Retailers, auto services and restaurants are in the mix.

"We try to never say 'no,'" he says, noting that some inquiries come from start-up business owners who can't qualify for an SBA loan.

However, Mid State partners with the Small Business Development Center and SCORE, and will refer applicants too small to qualify to those or other sources of advice or financial aid. He adds that a start-up may grow to a point where the owner can qualify for a 504 loan in the future.

"If we help them, at some stage they are going to need our service for purchase of real estate or equipment," he says philosophically.

Brice, 46, has been president of Mid State Development Corp. for three years, although he previously served on its board of directors for more than six years. A banking professional, he has been involved in working on 504 loans from the private side of the financial industry. He had a 21-year Kern County banking career before being tapped for Mid State's presidency.

A native of Washington, D.C., and a graduate from Dayton University, he started in the banking business right out of college. He became the youngest branch manager with Cleveland Trust of Cleveland, when he got a phone call from an officer of the then-Community First Bank in Bakersfield. He began a Kern County career that careened through several banks during a particularly busy merger period, working for four banks in seven years. One of the highlights was being hired by California Republic Bank before it was acquired by First Interstate and later Wells Fargo. He ended his banking career with Sanwa Bank, working for Troy Grant, a past chairman of Mid State.

Mid State Development Corp. changed its address last December to 1631 17th Street, about doubling its previous space. He points out that historically Mid State outgrows its space about every five years. It operates with a staff of five, including Brice. "It's the best staff I ever had," he said.

He says activity is ahead of last year, believing some of the impetus being continuing low interest rates. "It seems like small businesses rebound a little more rapidly than the corporations," he said, noting that business has grown continuously except for a brief period after Sept. 11, 2001.

Brice says that CDCs across the country are all running ahead of last year.

He says they are seeing a growing trend of women and minority clients. He adds that Mid State is seeing more clients from the outlying areas, such as Ridgecrest, Delano and Shafter.

Mid State sees the potential of expanding beyond Kern County. "For instance, Lancaster does a lot of things similar to what we do here," he adds. He says the corporation is looking toward the possibility of creating a smaller revolving loan fund.

The SBA award is not the only honor bestowed upon the Brice family this year. Betsy Brice, his wife, was named Teacher of the Year at Rosedale Middle School. Their daughter, Vanessa, a Stockdale High graduate, has completed her freshman year at the University of San Diego. Son Shane will be a sophomore at Stockdale.

Brice is past president of South Kiwanis Club, a board member of Kern Economic Development Corp. and the Small Business Development Center, on the board of Westminster Presbyterian Church and, more recently, was appointed to the board of the Community Foundation.

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