Treasurer Steven Grossman tours U.S. Armor with owner Tom Briggs on Wednesday. Grossman's small-business loan program allowed the bankrupt company to get back on its feet.
LEE, Mass. — When Tom Briggs purchased U.S. Armor late 2011, he never thought a bank would give him a loan.
Briggs had purchased a company that had gone bankrupt and while he knew he could make it profitable, he didn't think he could convince a bank.
"As a new company just coming up, buying out of bankruptcy, it was a big deal for us to get a loan because we never thought we'd be able to after the issues this company has had in the past," Briggs said Wednesday when he met with state Treasurer Steven Grossman.
Grossman toured the defense company's manufacturing operations to see firsthand how a program he headed helped U.S. Armor.
The Small Business Banking Partnership took state reserves, which were being held in overseas bank accounts, and loaned money to the state's community banks. Banks then had to offer competitive interest rates, insure the money so that the taxpayers dollars were always safe and loan it to small, local businesses.
Berkshire Bank entered that program and in 2012 gave Briggs the loan he needed.
"It's created a focus of being proactive in the local market and support the small entrepreneur," said Michael Ferry, senior vice president of commercial banking for Berkshire Bank. "A bank, by lending money, creates jobs, creates income, creates tax money."
Grossman said the state has loaned more than $308 million to community banks to improve and issue more commercial loans through 51 banks in the two years the program has been active. The value of more than 4,000 loans, which Grossman says the state can't take all of the credit for, is now worth more than $570 million.
"We are protecting every dime. There is no risk to your capital. We can build on that," Grossman said, saying just having those dollars in the community banks hands produces or saves jobs like the 40 at U.S. Armor.
The banks are the ones issuing the loans so the risk is all on their shoulders while the taxpayer funds are returned and insured, Grossman said.
The program is just one of the tools that has help lift the state out of the recession and Ferry says commercial lending is up by about 15 percent from just a few years ago. There are more and more inquiries for business loans so banks need more capital to loan for more businesses can get started, Grossman said.
With the $5 million deposited to Berkshire Bank, 70 commercial loans have been issued to local companies, Grossman said.
"These are 40 good jobs for the people in Lee and Pittsfield and the business is growing," Grossman said, adding that the market for armored glass isn't drying up anytime soon. "I am here as treasurer of the commonwealth and a business owner to wish you well. To say we are proud of what you've done and we're proud of your partnership with Berkshire Bank. ... We are very proud to be part of making that happen."
But while the loan program is something Grossman takes pride in, he wants more. Grossman is "strongly considering" a run for governor.
He went from a business man — inheriting a four-generation marketing and paper company — to treasurer because he wanted to expand opportunities for other businesses.
Now he wants to take another step to help businesses outside of a banking environment. He wants to invest state dollars in vocational education to train employees for high-tech manufacturing, improve roadways and expanding broadband — giving businesses the tools they need to survive.
"I happen to think advanced and precision manufacturing is going to be an incredibly important ingredient for the long-term economic health of the commonwealth," Grossman said. "This region of the state, which for many years had large companies doing manufacturing, now is made up of dozens and dozens of smaller manufacturing companies doing precision and advanced manufacturing. ... You can make a good living now working in precision manufacturing but it takes a certain amount of education."
Vocational and community college education is a particular focus of Grossman, as he advocated for the state to help build a new Taconic High School in Pittsfield.
"The day that we do a groundbreaking on Taconic, the day we open a new Taconic school, that is huge, huge statement of what we think and what we care about," Grossman said.
Meanwhile, to get those students jobs, Grossman says there needs to better ways to travel between the four western Massachusetts counties.
"We have a transportation crisis in the commonwealth. We have to find a way to link up the Gateway cities whether it is up on the Mohawk Trail or linking up the two cities in Berkshire County. You've got to find a way to link up and give people and opportunity to travel easily and move around," he said.
Additionally, expanding broadband will be a "game changer" and attract companies that had never before thought about moving to Berkshire County.
Grossman later attended a forum on the state Democratic platform hosted by state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing in Pittsfield and the 2nd annual unity dinner of the Berkshire Brigades in North Adams.