With a new year on the horizon, it’s a perfect time to dream about the future and set new goals and resolutions.  If your plans include starting a new business, the best place to start is with the United States Small Business Administration (SBA).

The SBA has an office in every state, including four in North Carolina. We have lenders, counselors, and other partners who work in thousands of communities across the U.S.  With their help, we have been knocking down obstacles for entrepreneurs and small business owners for nearly 60 years.

In fact, for the fiscal year that just ended, we helped provide nearly 8,500 loans to small businesses in this Southeast Region.  Nationwide, we had our biggest year ever.

Generally, we can help in two big ways.

First, if you’re someone who has a few ideas down on paper and you need someone who can help you formulate a business plan, the SBA or one of our “resource partners” is a great place to start.  You can find local help by going to www.sba.gov/direct and typing in your zip code. 

For example, you can find one of the North Carolina Small Business & Technology Development Centers at University of North Carolina campuses.  Also, check out www.SCORE.org, a volunteer organization with more than 350 chapters and more than 10,000 mentors, many of whom have been successful executives themselves.  North Carolina is home to more than 15 SCORE chapters and branches across the state.

Women can get help from the two SBA Women’s Business Centers in Fayetteville and Durham.

The best part is that these folks can often help you for free.

The second situation where SBA and our partners can help is if you’re already a small business owner.

Many small business owners have come to us over the past two years, looking for ways to reinvent their business and grow in the face of tough economic times.  Whether it’s getting an SBA loan, winning your first federal contract, or learning the ins-and-outs of exporting, the SBA and our partners can get you the information and the local connections you need.

Why is all of this so important?

Economists agree that small businesses are a big part of the solution to getting our economy moving again and to creating jobs that we lost in the recession.   President Obama and Congress have used – and continue to use – the SBA and other federal agencies to help you get the tools you need to succeed.

In particular, the President is pushing for more tax relief for small businesses, especially those that are looking to buy more equipment or hire more workers.  We need to make sure that small businesses have every possible incentive to help build on the growth that we’re beginning to see in the economy.

I’m particularly proud of our efforts to help veterans, thousands of whom are returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  We’re working to ensure that businesses have every incentive to hire veterans, and that veterans themselves can transform their skills and leadership into starting a new business of their own. Last year, the SBA Veteran’s Business Outreach Center opened in Fayetteville, NC to help them do this.

So, if you’re thinking about starting or growing a business in 2012, you know where to go.  There’s no time like the present to have that first conversation with the SBA or one of our resource partners in your area.  Have a Happy New Year.

About the Guest Blogger: Cassius Butts is the  Regional Administrator for the U.S. Small Business Administration