The Small Business Administration recognized financial institutions devoted to helping small firms through their lending practices.

The administration applauded 10 financial firms for their work with small businesses struggling to secure credit. Included were the BBVA Compass Bank of Birmingham, Alabama, the large 7(a) lender of the year; Randolph-Brooks Federal Credit Union of Live Oak, Texas, the credit union 7(a) lender of the year; and Ameritrust Certified Development Company of Seattle, Washington, the 504 lender of the year.

SBA administrator Karen Mills praised the winners for their role keeping small firms afloat during the credit crunch.

"Access to capital is the lifeblood of small business, and small business is the driving force of our economy," she said. "By keeping their commitments to small business during this rough economic climate, these lenders are playing a critical role in the nation's recovery."

Kim Willis, a co-founder and sales and marketing director at 504 winner Ameritrust CDC, says she's thrilled with the two-year-old company's win. As a 504 lender, Ameritrust partners with commercial lenders to offer loans for real estate or equipment purchases. The CDC also closes, processes, and serves the loans.

"We already have a portfolio of almost 40 million dollars, which is unprecedented for a CDC—we had to work very hard to get 504 loans on the books and get them closed," she said. "To receive an award like this is humbling, and we're just so excited we could hardly stand it."

Willis feels as founders of their own company, Ameritrust's executives are in a better position to relate to small businesses and provide better customer service.

"We have a really good idea of what small businesses go through," she said.