More banks and business owners would tap the U.S. Small Business Administration's loan guarantee programs if the SBA would streamline the application process, M&T Bank (MTB) Chairman and Chief Executive Robert Wilmers said Thursday.

Speaking on a panel at the Clinton Global Initiative conference in Chicago, Wilmers said that while he is a fan of the SBA's programs, he believes they would be more successful if they were more user friendly. He noted, for example, that on one SBA loan M&T made to a 10-employee firm last year the borrower had to sign nine forms in 24 places.

Though the SBA backed a record $30 billion of loans to more than 61,000 borrowers last fiscal year, its programs represent just a tiny fraction of all small business loans. The $78 billion-asset M&T is one of the nation's largest SBA lenders, but SBA lenders account for less than 5% of its total loan portfolio, Wilmers said during the panel discussion moderated by former President Bill Clinton.

Asked by Clinton how the SBA could encourage more lenders to offer its loan guarantees, Wilmers said, "They can work with the banks to simplify the process."

Wilmers was among five panelists who joined Clinton on stage to discuss ways to stimulate job growth. Others on the panel included Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and Coca-Cola President and CEO Steve Cahillane.

With many job openings going unfilled due to a lack of skilled labor, much of the discussion focused on education. Wilmers noted that many high schools — particularly in the inner cities — are failing to prepare students for the workforce, while Clinton and other panelists called on community colleges to work with industry to help design curricula that is relevant to the needs of employers.

Wilmers said employment growth is also being stymied by political gridlock as lawmakers continue to squabble over key fiscal matters such as the looming expiration of both the Bush tax cuts and extended unemployment benefits.

"The No. 1 concern for small businesses is a lack of certainty," he said.

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