After serving as a mentor for business owners for more than 30 years, Carl Christensen, Small Business Administration senior area manager for the Virgin Islands, is retiring and there may not be a replacement for several months.
For the last 31 years, Christensen has been in the lending business for the SBA and during that time developed a relationship with the community that will be difficult for his successor to recreate.
“It took years, since 1983 when I came, for me to get a relationship with the community,” he said.
Christensen said the most rewarding aspect of his job was to guide people starting a business and then watch them succeed. He has enjoyed the personal contact, whether at the office or in the supermarket.
The St. Croix small businessperson has “unique characteristics,” Christensen said. He or she doesn’t want to borrow but tries to save the money they need to open their doors.
“They’re scared of credit. They want to do it by themselves,” he said.
The most difficult part of the job, Christensen said, has been trying to get a bonding agency and new banks to open offices and branches in the territory.
“We’ve been trying to get a bonding company for 30 years and just last week we found one,” he said proudly.
Attracting industrial banks or banks that grant SBA guaranteed loans remains a goal for the agency. Only two or three local banks will loan to small business people, but several off-island banks are interested in moving here, he said.
“The thing that concerns me is access to capital. We don’t get a flow from our banks to drive the economy,” he said. “For some reason, we shoot ourselves in the foot.”
According to Yvette Collazo, the SBA district director for Puerto Rico and the U. S. Virgin Islands, Christensen’s position will be posted and then applicants will go through a federal hiring process. They will look for someone with a financial and/or contractor’s experience in the areas covered by SBA programs.
“I honestly can’t say, but based on past experience it will take between three and four months,” to find a replacement, Collazo said.
The job title will be the same as Christensen’s: senior area manager for the Virgin Islands.
In the meantime, Collazo said an employee from the Puerto Rico office will visit St. Croix to take appointments at least one week a month.
And, the V.I. Small Business Development Centers will be open on St. Croix and St. Thomas to offer technical assistance, counseling and training, SBDC State Director Leonor Dottin said.
Dottin credits Christensen with runing more of a local entity than a regional or federal one.
“He’s going to be missed," she said. "He has a lot of knowledge and built so many community relationships.”