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Small-business lender The Money Store Investment Corp. has opened its first Utah office, in Salt Lake City.

The Money Store office at 201 S. Main in One Utah Center is the 45th to be opened by the Sacramento-based company that was founded in 1979 and is said to be the largest lender of U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) loans in the nation.The company's mortgage loan division opened a Money Store office in Midvale in February.

Manager of the new small-business loan office, which will serve all of Utah, is Kurt J. Matz, a 1984 graduate of the University of Utah who has returned to the state after 10 years in St. Louis, where he worked in commercial real estate development, property management, brokerage sales and leasing.

"We look forward to helping small businesses succeed here," said Matz, who has made his home in Park City. "This area has the highest educated work force and the youngest average-age population in the entire United States," said Matz, who was involved in buying, leasing and managing real estate for Dolan Properties in St. Louis before joining The Money Store.

Company spokesman Roger Conlee said The Money Store can provide businesses with up to $2.5 million in guaranteed, long-term financing for a qualifying business to acquire real estate, or fund construction, equipment or other business purposes.

According to Conlee, The Money Store was the leading small-business lender nationally for the 11th consecutive year in 1993 with a total volume of $319 million in SBA-guaranteed loans.

The Money Store's clients include professional service firms, manufacturers, wholesalers, distributors and retailers.

According to Conlee, The Money Store was among the first "non-bank banks" to participate with the SBA, which this year expects to help make available some $8 billion in capital for small business.

Under SBA guidelines, loans are made for up to 25 years and up to 90 percent in loan-to-value. In addition to real estate or improvements, loan funds may also be used for working capital and other purposes, said Conlee.

Within four years of its founding, The Money Store became the largest provider of SBA loans and has provided $1.9 billion to borrowers since 1979.

Matz said the Salt Lake office opened the first of the month and he has spent the past few weeks getting involved in various real estate committees and groups such as the Salt Lake Area Chamber of Commerce.

"But we've got some (loan deals) going too. The economy is fabulous here."

He said The Money Store's mortgage loan office in Midvale has turned in some national-best figures over the past five months.

The Money store has been growing rapidly nationwide, with offices in Boise and Colorado Springs/Denver ranking first and second in SBA lending.

"But Utah has a bigger airline hub and is more central to the West Coast so we see a lot of great things happening here - across the whole state, not just the Salt Lake area."

A native of Long Beach, Calif., Matz said he is glad to be back in Utah. "Everybody has been complaining about the hot weather here, but they should spend some time in St. Louis. With the humidity there, you can't even go outside when it's 100 degrees. It's not really that bad here.

Asked if he thought Utah's economic boom would continue, Matz noted that Phoenix and Seattle, to name two cities that previously experienced booms, already have learned that nothing lasts forever.

"Obviously, real estate prices have to level off sometime because people can't afford the prices. But in terms of overall economic growth, sure, it can continue here. You can still buy a 3-acre plot of land for a reasonable price in Heber City, to name one example, and still have a reasonable commute to Salt Lake. You can't do that in many other large cities."