Delivering on the American Dream
by Maria Contreras-Sweet, SBA Administrator
- Created: April 7, 2014, 5:25 pm
- Updated: April 7, 2014, 6:16 pm
Today, with appreciation and humility, I begin my work as SBA Administrator and a relentless advocate for America’s 28 million small businesses.
My journey as a first-generation immigrant born in Guadalajara, Mexico, to President Obama’s cabinet is one that could only happen in America. I came to this country at the age of 5 with my mom and five siblings. We didn’t have much, but what we did have was an abundance of hope. We didn’t speak the language yet, neither the English language nor the language of business, but I was taught to believe in the promise of America.
This country was founded by risk-takers, resourceful pioneers who built this prosperous nation. Entrepreneurialism is our heritage.
The American Dream has always been about the opportunity to earn a good education and the keys to your own home, but the expanding American Dream is also about the opportunity to start your own business. I’ve lived that Dream, and as SBA Administrator, I’m determined to help others realize theirs, as well.
Small businesses employ 1 out of 2 workers. SBA is a driving force that helps propel this economic activity. SBA provides access to capital, contracting opportunities, consultation through a national network of partners, and disaster relief loans. I’m energized to begin my work on behalf of this nation’s entrepreneurs, who risk so much to start new businesses and create most of our new jobs.
I’ve already had a busy first morning on the job. I met with our disaster assistance team, which is on the ground in Washington State following the presidential declaration to assist those impacted by the devastating mudslide. I also met with a group of veterans to thank them and to explore how more of our military heroes can use their skills to become successful small business owners.
John F Kennedy once said “All of us do not have equal talent, but all of us should have an equal opportunity to develop our talents.”
I’ve come to realize that access to the American Dream means access to capital. Entrepreneurs are the difference-makers in our economy. I’ve seen the pivotal role the SBA plays in our entrepreneurial ecosystem. I was both a community banker and an SBA lender. I was a small business owner whose small business helped small businesses every day.
As a bank chairwoman, I examined business plans, their viability, and management’s ability to execute. This not only strengthened my knowledge of the challenges that small businesses face, it also strengthened my resolve to help them overcome those hurdles and succeed.
When I started my first business almost 20 years ago, I experienced the same challenges that entrepreneurs face today. On any given day, I could be called upon to be the company’s human resources director, CFO, spokeswoman, or chief sales officer — all while competing against larger firms in highly competitive markets. Today’s small business owners multitask their way through similar days, relying on their determination, the courage of their convictions, and the power of their entrepreneurial spirit.
At the SBA, we’re working to create the next great American success story. SBA lending has helped launch businesses on a path to the Fortune 500, companies like Apple and Fed Ex. SBA has helped launch an iconic American ice cream brand, Ben and Jerry’s. SBA even helped six small businesses partner with NASA to launch the Mars rover, Curiosity, which is exploring the surface of the planet as we speak.
As Administrator, my mission is to make the SBA an agency that’s as innovative as the small businesses we serve. Two out of three new jobs in America are created by small businesses.
Millions of middle class families are working for folks who depend on the SBA’s ability to facilitate access to capital, counseling and contracting opportunities. We must draw on technology to streamline the process of working with the SBA to make it easier for borrowers to access capital and easier for lenders to lend. The SBA must be nimble and agile to keep pace with our digital age.
Remember when a bank was a tall building you walked into, to do business with a teller or a loan officer? Then ATMs came and transformed our relationship to our banks. Today, Americans can use their smart phone to scan their checks and make bank deposits from their living room. The SBA has to anticipate the kinds of rapid changes that are transforming how Americans access financial services, so our products are accessible and relevant in this technological age.
Demographic changes also require fresh thinking. We know there are more retired people who are looking to start a second career and be their own boss. There are more women and more minorities seeking to join the entrepreneurial class. And data shows that immigrants are twice as likely to file patents and twice as likely to start a new enterprise. As Administrator, I plan to embrace them all with a broad, inclusive vision.
I’m determined to get more loans into the hands of entrepreneurs who reflect the diversity of America. We know SBA lending to African-Americans, Asian-Americans, and Latino-owned businesses, as well as women-owned businesses, can lift up entire communities. SBA must reach more Main Street businesses seeking loans. We’ll do this by making it easier for community banks and micro lenders to become our partners.
Through our vast resource network, we can strengthen entrepreneurial education, which is so important to the one million people who get game-changing SBA counseling every year. We will seed start-up businesses focused in high-growth areas like advanced manufacturing. We must build bridges with rural communities, as well as urban centers alike, so they’re exporting more and are integrated into the global supply chain.
With the President’s support, I’m going to collaborate with my cabinet colleagues to make sure more government contracts are awarded to small businesses.
I’m eager to get to work to help our entrepreneurs grow their companies – and the American economy along with it. At the SBA, taking care of business has been our business for 61 years. This agency has been a pivotal force in America’s economic comeback story, but we’re only getting started.
So let’s get down to business. And I invite you to join me on Twitter at #GettingDownToBusiness to begin that dialogue today.
About the Author
Maria Contreras-Sweet is the Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration. The SBA helps both Main Street and high-growth small businesses get access to capital, counseling, federal contracts, disaster assistance and more.
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