Small businesses in Louisiana still lag far behind prerecession figures, receiving $78 million thus far this year, compared with $95 million in start-up loans in 2007, according to a study conducted by the Delta Regional Authority.

The finding is part of an economic report that showed Delta states received a major boost in access to start-up funds in 2011.

The DRA recently announced creation of a business advisory council to help deliver resources to Delta small-business owners.

The authority and the U.S. Small Business Administration also announced a partnership to improve the small-business sector and expand economic development in the Delta region.

The DRA provides economic development assistance to 252 counties or parishes in parts of eight states that include Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee.

One of the key findings in the DRA report showed small businesses in the Delta already have received more than $12 million over all of 2009 when $276 million was extended. Small firms make up 97 percent of Louisiana employers, according to the DRA.

U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, welcomed the SBA pact, which she helped prompt.

“I applaud SBA’s willingness to partner with the Delta Regional Authority,” Landrieu said in a statement. “This agreement should improve upon the deployment and coordination resources for small businesses in the Delta region.”

Use of foreign vessels critized

Landrieu and U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., along with U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, recently joined in a letter to President Barack Obama criticizing the administration for using foreign vessels to transport crude oil within the United States during the ongoing Strategic Petroleum Reserve drawdown.

The letter urged the use of domestic vessels and seafarers, saying that it is required under the federal Jones Act in order to create jobs and improve the economy at home.

The 90-year-old Jones Act requires the use of American vessels and American seafarers when moving cargo between two points in the United States.

In June, Obama decided to release 30 million barrels from the petroleum reserve, some of which is stored in salt caverns along coastal Louisiana.

The administration has contended that the moves were necessary to get oil to suppliers more quickly to lower prices and maintain supplies during the summer travel season.

Since the decision, Obama has waived the Jones Act 46 times, the letter states.

“We strongly urge the administration to end the practice of waiving the Jones Act for SPR oil distribution and handing American jobs to foreign shipping companies,” the letter states. “The rash of recent waivers, exacerbated by a lack of transparency in the decision-making process, represents a stain on the administration’s determined effort to create jobs and improve the economy down here at home and it should therefore be rectified immediately.”

La. businesses invited to Israel

Landrieu recently invited Louisiana’s energy-related businesses to participate in an upcoming U.S. Department of Commerce trade mission to Israel next month.

The Oct. 23-27 trip, organized by the Southwest Louisiana Economic Development Alliances, will include business briefings, seminars, meetings and site visits with key companies in the Israeli energy sector.

International trade between the United States and Israel has strengthened since the signing of the Israel Free Trade Agreement in 1985, resulting in a dramatic reduction of trade tariffs on commerce between the two nations.

The United States is Israel’s largest single-country trading partner, with U.S. exports to Israel of $6.7 billion in 2010.

“It is good news for our state’s economy that the Southwest Louisiana Economic Development Alliance is working with the Department of Commerce to organize a trade mission to Israel focused on oil and gas,” Landrieu said in a statement.

“There is great potential for future collaboration between the two countries and I look forward to working with everyone involved to make the trade mission a success,” she said.

Compiled by Gerard Shields, chief of The Advocate’s Washington bureau. His email address is GerardShields@aol.com.