After a long wait, President Obama has announced that he will nominate Maria Contreras-Sweet as the United States Small Business Administration’s new Chief. The nomination comes as welcome news to the small-business community as the office’s last occupant, Karen Mills resigned her post nearly a year ago.
During the long interim, the SBA was led capably by acting chief Jeanne Hulit, but some speculated that the extended absence of an official appointee meant the president was considering taking actions along the lines of those prescribed in a Republican-sponsored bill that would have merged the SBA with the departments of Commerce and Labor.
Proponents claimed the bill would save money, streamline government, and eliminate agency overlap, but many in the small-business community worried that the loss of the SBA would have made it much more difficult to get their concerns voiced in the policy-making arena. In 2012, President Obama himself petitioned Congress to give him the power to fold the SBA and four other government agencies into the department of Commerce, but with the new appointment, and his elevation of SBA Administrator to a cabinet-level position, many are reassured that he has the small-business community’s best interests at heart.
A Veteran Entrepreneur
While having any nominee at all seems to have lifted spirits on Main Street, the small-business community’s reception of Obama’s choice in appointees has been generally positive. 58-year old Maria Contreras-Sweet has an extensive background as an entrepreneur. In the span of her career, she has started a marketing and research consulting firm, co-founded a private venture capital firm, and founded ProAmérica Bank, the first Latino-formed commercial bank in California in more than three decades.
An Experienced Public Servant
In addition to her successes in the business community, Contreras-Sweet has extensive experience in the public sector. She started her political career as field deputy for the California State Assembly. From there, she stepped into the role of District Manager for the US Census Bureau, overseeing the census in Southeast Los Angeles County.
Following her time in the Census Bureau, Contreras-Sweet was appointed Cabinet Secretary of the California Business, Transportation and Housing agency, where she spearheaded groundbreaking initiatives, such as the first ever international architectural design competition for a state building, Caltrans District 7 Headquarters. She was the first Latina to hold the position.
A Business Finance Expert
Small-business advocacy groups have been vocal in their support of Contreras-Sweet’s nomination, citing her background in community banking and her venture capital experience as valuable qualifications. A big part of the SBA’s role in fostering growth in the small-business sector is its function as a backer of small-business loans. Having someone with an extensive small-business finance track record heading up the agency may mean better access to capital for small-business owners.
[Photo Credit: bigstory.ap.org]