VANCOUVER, Wash. -- Even as the economy continues to improve, there is still a big stumbling block to growth: Access to the money needed to expand and create new jobs.

A new report by the Small Business Administration found that the number of loan approvals in Clark County has dropped to the lowest level within the past six years.

It's one reason State Senator Maria Cantwell, now chair of the U.S. Senate Small Business Committee, has kicked off a two-week listening tour. It started Tuesday at Vancouver.

We think the next great idea might come from a garage in Vancouver or Longview and we want to make sure they get the financing, said Cantwell before a pack Council Chambers at Vancouver City Hall.

She's hearing from small business owners and the problems they've had with access to capitol.

The stories have been similar. Many people not even knowing about SBA loans, or worrying about too many hoops to jump through at some local lenders.

That was pretty much the case for Amy O'Hara and her husband. They own four Where the Shoe Fits stores in Vancouver and now a new location in Portland.

We had great resumes, and we had drive and ability and perfect credit, and we found it still very difficult to get a loan, said O'Hara.

Compared to last year in Oregon and Southwest Washington, the number of small business loans have dropped by 13 percent.

Senator Cantwell will share the information from her listening tour with the U.S Senate Small Business Committee and then make recommendations which she hopes will make it easier to free up money to grow more small business.

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