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AGENCY GIVES SMALL FIRMS A BIG BOOST

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In Utah, where investment capital has always been scarce, the Utah Technology Finance Corp. must seem like an oasis in the desert to a company looking for financial help.

Because of the conservative nature of Utah banks, some small businesses find it difficult to raise money to expand, and in some cases survive, and some are faced with moving outside the state where venture capital money is more accessible.Enter the UTFC, a nonprofit organization created by the Legislature several years ago to help growing Utah companies acquire capital so they will remain in the state.

One of the agency's goals is to help companies employ people and keep the money in Utah. UTFC officials look at the market the company will impact and how the company will improve Utah.

Circuit Technology Corp. fits that mold.

CTC is only 7 months old, but already has 44 employees. It specializes in surface-mount technology for circuit assembly. Before the company was founded, nobody in Utah produced these circuit boards, but now the company has 40 percent of the Utah circuit board market.

Iehab Hawatmeh, CTC president, said that if UTFC hadn't helped him with some seed money, the company may never have become a reality.

"Bankers are very conservative and it is hard to get financing when you don't have any type of credit history. UTFC wanted to help us and used a subordinated position to bring a bank into the deal; they helped keep money and business inside Utah," Hawatmeh said.

To facilitate the lending process, UTFC offers technical assistance before extending any financing, according to Mark Eckels, vice president of Remote Operating Systems, a company that has been working with UTFC for 18 months.

"Right now we are in the final phase of negotiating a loan package from several sources of credit, and UTFC is sponsoring us. They have also given us support in training, finance and accounting and financial tracking. They have really given us good advice and have helped us through some growing pains," Eckels said.

Don Welty, UTFC president and executive director, said when his agency first started working with Remote Operating Systems, the company had a terrible balance sheet and undesirable cash flow, but it had a good business concept. "We helped them make those adjustments that would enable UTFC to complete the financing," Welty said.

Another example of UTFC's value relates to RM Precision, LaVerkin, Washington County, which specializes in precision parts for aerospace, medical and computer markets.

Roy Mendoza, president, said the company needed to expand to improve its profit margin, and banks were unwilling to loan the company money because of the small profit margin shown. Mendoza was thinking about moving out of Utah. Mesquite, Nev., offered the company two acres of land and a Nevada bank offered to loan it some money.

Sherm Willkinson, a UTFC employee, asked Mendoza to give him six months to find help, which he did. He found some financing, and within three years the company's annual sales have increased from $100,000 to $2.2 million.