ATLANTA (AP) — Lending for small businesses is at an all-time high in Georgia.

A recent report released by the Georgia Small Business Administration shows that $1.41 billion was loaned in the state last year.

In the last two quarters ending March 31, $650 million in loans were disbursed to small businesses statewide.

“The lending environment is much better than it was 10 years ago,” said Drew Tonsmeire of the UGA Small Business Development Center at Kennesaw State University, says the lending environment is much better than it was 10 years ago.

He said businesses are able to access different sources of funding aside from banks, such as SBA loans and lines of credit from online lenders.

Some still struggle to access credit, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported . A 2017 Federal Reserve Bank report showed smaller firms struggling to access credit compared to larger, more established businesses.

Also, women still have more of a disadvantage when it comes to securing business loans, the newspaper reported. There are close to 10 million female-owned businesses in the nation, which account for $1.4 trillion in receipts, data from the U.S. Department of Labor shows.

Nationwide, only 27 percent of women who applied for funding in the first quarter of 2018 were approved compared to the overall success rate of 42.6 percent, according to a study conducted by the Pepperdine Graziadio Business School in conjunction with research firm Dun & Bradstreet.

Credit issues among applicants and a lack of prior business relationships with lending institutions are some factors leading to loan application failures, Tonsmeire said. Business owners need to establish dialogue with lenders prior to applying for loans, he added.

The nearly 1 million small businesses in Georgia employ some 1.5 million people and account for nearly a third of the state’s exports, according to the International Trade Association. The businesses provide 44 percent of the private sector jobs.

Access to funding helps small businesses launch new projects, expand operations and hire more people, said Dean Bird, Atlanta small business banker manager at Bank of America.

“Ultimately, capital is one of the key ingredients in turning ideas into action,” said Bird.

Meanwhile, Georgia is headed for the strongest small business growth forecast since 2014, with 81 percent planning expansions in the next five years, a newly-released Bank of America report shows.

“Local small business owners feel positive about tax reform and are excited by the potential of emerging technologies creating more opportunity for business growth,” Bird said.

Thirty-six percent of small business owners plan to hire more employees in the next 12 months, according to the report.

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Information from: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, http://www.ajc.com

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