Small businesses in the Sunshine State are finally starting to see the sun, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration.

At the SBA in South Florida, the staff is optimistic that economic indicators will lead to profitable opportunities for businesses in the state.

In this interview, Francisco “Pancho” A. Marrero, SBA South Florida district director, discusses the small-business environment in the state and how the SBA supports entrepreneurs. Marrero’s South Florida office, based in Miami, serves 1.2 million small businesses in Florida’s 24 counties south of Orlando.

Should small-business owners in Florida be optimistic about the economic outlook for their businesses?

We are cautiously optimistic about the outlook for small businesses in South Florida. Current economic indicators point to a positive environment for the growth of small businesses in Florida: Unemployment, foreclosure and bankruptcy filings are decreasing while manufacturing and tourism are expanding.

Smart entrepreneurs will seize the opportunities these trends present and capitalize on them. In addition, as economic conditions continue to improve, we expect a corresponding loosening of capital for small businesses from lending institutions.

What type of corporation should a new small business with five employees establish? What are the tax benefits?

The type of structure an entrepreneur elects when starting a business is a matter of taxation and exposure to liability. The SBA website offers information on options as well as other helpful articles.

What is the greatest opportunity area for small businesses?

The biggest opportunity trend is in exporting. Ninety-seven percent of the world market is outside of this country; the U.S. government offers many resources to help entrepreneurs reach these markets. A terrific starting point is the federal government’s export promotion and finance portal, Export.gov. It’s a one-stop shop for export topics, training, information, data and guides.

Through our loan guaranty programs, SBA helps small businesses export their goods and services. We help them finance receivables, fixed assets (including real estate) and other working capital needs that will help them gain a competitive advantage. Also, SBA works in partnership with other federal agencies at U.S. Export Assistance Centers around the country to help small-business owners locate new markets, finance exports and insure their export sales.

Increased government regulation is a major issue for small-business owners — can you ease these concerns?

The National Ombudsman and the Office of Advocacy, two offices within SBA, advocate for small businesses. The Office of Advocacy is the watchdog for the Regulatory Flexibility Act and advances the views and concerns of small business across all branches of the federal government as well as among state policymakers. The ombudsman helps small-business owners who are experiencing duplicative, excessive or burdensome government regulations, unfair enforcement, threats or retaliation. We’ve sponsored several roundtables in South Florida where input from the small-business community has been used by the Regional Advocate and the Ombudsman to ease regulatory burdens. Entrepreneurs can contact these offices for help in managing the regulatory environment: SBA.gov/advocacy and SBA.gov/ombudsman.

What are some of the actions taken by the U.S. Small Business Administration to help businesses hit by the recession in Florida?

SBA has taken several steps to strengthen businesses in Florida and across the country. The Small Business Jobs Act of 2010 improved SBA’s loan programs, made the Export Express Loan Program permanent, and increased maximum loan amounts to $5 million. It put much-needed financing into the hands of entrepreneurs.

Another outgrowth of the legislation is the Intermediary Lending Pilot Program. The second round of available funding under this program was announced in April 2012, and it will increase the number of community-based funding sources participating in SBA’s loan programs. It also will assist small businesses in underserved communities to get loans up to $200,000. Similarly, another round of funding for the State Trade and Export Promotion, or STEP, grant was announced in March, which will give the states and U.S. territories grants that can be used to help increase exporting by small businesses. SBA’s CAPLines program was recently revamped to help small businesses meet their short-term and cyclical working capital needs.

The American Supplier Initiative is a new private-public collaboration between SBA and 15 of America’s largest corporations to help small businesses access and become part of commercial, private-sector supply chains. Through the Supplier Connection, a free online portal, small businesses can send information about their products and services to companies such as Facebook, IBM, Caterpillar, Office Depot, Wells Fargo and Dell.

In the green and emerging technology arenas, SBA supports the advancement of 20 high-growth, regional industry clusters across the country, which are promoting development in areas such as advanced manufacturing, information technology, aerospace and clean technology. The Florida Space Coast Clean Energy Jobs Accelerator is working with businesses near the NASA Kennedy Space Center to create 200 new jobs through the hastening and commercialization of emerging technologies.

Lastly, improvements and additions to the SBA’s website offer instant access to high-quality information and technical assistance on all aspects of business ownership.

Special thanks to Francisco “Pancho” A. Marrero, SBA South Florida district director, for joining us in this interview.