Small-business lending may be heating up for the most creditworthy borrowers, but gaps in that market remain, the head of the Small Business Administration said in an interview on Tuesday.

"We know the market has come back for the best and healthiest businesses," Karen Mills told American Banker, after delivering remarks at a small-business lending conference in Washington, D.C.

"The remaining gap remains in the small loans and the underserved markets," including women-owned and minority-owned businesses, Mills added. "That's probably why we had a record year last year, because if the market will give you a loan, why should the taxpayer subsidize that loan?"

Banks and other lenders made $30.5 billion of SBA-backed loans to small businesses in fiscal year 2011, the highest volume in the agency's 58-year history and a 35% increase over the prior year.

"We give loan guarantees where the bank, the market is just not quite able to get there. It's a good business, but maybe they had a hard year three years ago and the three-year history doesn't quite meet the standard. But this is a business that you know and it's on a good trajectory. That's where SBA has a role," Mills said.

The SBA, which was recently elevated to a cabinet-level agency, is hoping greater publicity will continue to keep loan volumes growing next year, Mills said.

"I think the past three years set the foundation stone for the SBA that's really delivering in a lot of our fronts," she said.

"So one of our goals for the upcoming year is to make sure people know . we streamlined the processes, to make sure they know we've added over 1200 community banks back to lending, to make sure they know that our top 13 banks have committed $20 billion of incremental small business lending over the next three years," she said.

The SBA is also planning further streamlining measures and other improvements to its popular programs for 7(a) and 504 loans.

"Stay tuned..we're announcing two big sets of improvements" to those programs, Mills said, although she declined to provide further detail on the timing or content of those changes.

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