“We’re here to help.” That’s what you hear from the Small Business Administration (SBA) and in today’s uncertain economic climate that phrase can be a stabilizing force for small business owners, including DD franchisees.

Anne Hunt is the assistant district director of the Massachusetts office of the SBA and she says the economic downturn is the worst she has seen in her 27 years at SBA. “You hear how banks are constricting lending and it’s harder to get financing-there’s no news there.” But, she says there are some bright spots that business owners should be aware of.

“Even as guaranteed SBA loans are falling off in the nation as a whole, the situation in Massachusetts is not as bad. You could say that the 504’s are the silver lining.”

504’s refer to specific loans that enable business owners to buy buildings, real estate and durable goods (defined as having at least a 10-year life span). Looking at the last quarter of 2008 versus 2007, the SBA has seen an increase in the number of 504 loans written in Massachusetts. “We’re up about 37% year to year,” Hunt says.  When pressed to isolate a reason why the 504’s are surviving in a bad economy, Hunt agrees there are smart business owners who know how to bargain shop for distressed assets and banks are willing to underwrite these SBA guaranteed loans.

If you are a business owner and you want or need to borrow money these days where should you go? Hunt suggests bypassing the big banks in favor of the small, community banks in your area. In 2007, the SBA saw an increase in lending from community banks. Hunt says, “These banks didn’t have to change their underwriting rules when the economy went bad because they were conservative to begin with.” As a result, she says, lenders can look at deals on a case by case basis instead of just matching results to a credit score.

And, as a DD franchisee the news can be even better. Because Dunkin Donuts has a proven concept and well established business practices, banks are more willing to lend within the system than to a stand-alone mom and pop business or to the operator of a less well known franchise.

Still, there are some franchisees that have accumulated too much debt and, amid falling sales and increasing expenses, are having trouble paying the bills. Hunt’s advice: get in front of your banker as soon as possible. “It’s best not to hide. The SBA encourages lenders to offer deferments to business owners who are going through tough times. And, lenders are complying.”

If you need to borrow money, the SBA’s website (www.sba.gov) is a great place to start. Among the resources you’ll find a list of your state’s banks that have SBA programs, including contact names and numbers.

Any small business can benefit from the advice and the know-how offered by the SBA-especially in these tough times.