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National Council of La Raza Annual Conference

The SBA Administrator

MARIA CONTRERAS-SWEET

National Council of La Raza Annual Conference

Speech Date: 
Monday, July 21, 2014
Speech Location: 
Los Angeles, California
As Prepared For: 
Maria Contreras Sweet, SBA Administrator

Thank you, Enrique, for that generous introduction. Good afternoon, NCLR! It’s wonderful to be home in Los Angeles with so many friends. I want to thank Janet and Jorge for the gracious invitation to be with you – and for outdoing themselves yet again with another impactful Annual Conference.

Thanks to NCLR, and to all of you, for your support through my confirmation process, so I can bring the perspective of the Latina entrepreneur to the President’s cabinet. There’s no substitute for electing leaders who’ve lived our struggles and faced our same challenges of working while raising a family.  There’s no substitute for electing a President who was still paying off his school loans just four years before he became the leader of the free world.

As many of you know, I came to this country at the age of 5, not speaking a word of English. I’ve been blessed to start three businesses, including California’s first Latino-owned business bank in 35 years. I take the lessons of my life with me to work every day to help others achieve their dreams.

The last time I had the opportunity to speak here at NCLR, it was to celebrate the achievements of an organization I co-founded with some extraordinary women – a group called HOPE, Hispanas Organized for Political Equality. It’s based right here in Los Angeles, and HOPE’s mission is to empower Latinas to become more fully engaged in our democracy.
 

We founded HOPE, because whether we’re talking about the local school board, the city council, state government, or the Congress of the United States, our elected officials need to be a reflection of the people they serve.

So if you feel frustrated by gridlock; discouraged by setbacks in our struggle for a fairer, more humane immigration system; heartbroken by the children reaching for our borders; and disappointed by the pace of our progress, there’s  one thing will make everything better:

Brothers and sisters, we have to use that “one thing” every chance we get. And that thing is your right to VOTE!  Vote at the ballot box, and vote at the point of purchase by supporting the kind of companies you want to see succeed.

This month, America celebrates a special anniversary – the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Right Act. It was in the crucible of the civil rights movement of the 1960s that La Raza was forged. But after the Civil Right Act passed, Dr. King posed a question that still rings true today. He asked: “What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn’t have enough money to buy a hamburger?”

Dr. King understood that our civil rights needed to be coupled with market rights and economic empowerment. Today, the Hispanic employment rate is on the rise, but we’re still not back to the pre-recession rate of 64 percent. And many families are still struggling to rebuild after the collapse of the housing market, which caused a 58 percent decline in median household wealth among Latinos. Entrepreneurship must be central to our strategy to employ our neighbors and allow Latino families to once again accumulate savings.

We also must be able to secure a great education, quality jobs, affordable housing, safe streets, and accessible health care. Today’s NCLR poll revealed that more than 60 percent of Hispanics today believe that starting a business is an integral part of the American Dream. Hispanics don’t just believe it.  We’re proving it.

Hispanics are starting businesses at 3 times the national average. Immigrant-owned firms today employ 1 in 10 U.S. workers. Immigrants are also our innovators and nearly three times more likely to file for patents. There are 3.2 million Latino-owned businesses in America today, and they’re pumping nearly 500 billion dollars into our economy every year.

We hear a lot about the developing BRIC countries and their growing power. Many of the corporations represented here today have aggressive strategies to expand markets in Brazil, India and China. But consider this: Hispanic purchasing power in America is expected to top $1.5 trillion by next year. The American Hispanic market, if it were its own country, would be the 11th largest economy in the world – close to Mexico and larger than Korea and Spain.

Soon, Hispanics will have more per capita purchasing power than the BRIC countries. I’m determined to nurture and support Latino entrepreneurs who’ve led this recovery and propelled our rise. Last year, SBA broke our record for lending to Hispanic-owned businesses. We supported loans totaling more than $1.3 billion. Since President Obama took office, SBA lending to Hispanic entrepreneurs has increased by 133 percent. Before President Obama took office, 14 percent of SBA microloans went to Hispanic-owned businesses. But last year, Hispanic entrepreneurs received 43 percent of SBA microloans.

At the SBA, we not just providing loans, we’re providing value-add counselling. I’ve made inclusivity a fundamental theme of my administration, implementing new programs to make it easier for Hispanic businesses to earn government contracts, corporate contracts, and international export contracts. And SBA’s consulting network has trained and counseled more than 300,000 Hispanic entrepreneurs since 2011.

Now, I just reached my 100-day milestone at SBA.  Already, I’ve made some major changes to fuel even more economic progress. I’ve revamped our underwriting rules to make it easier for entrepreneurs to get an SBA business loan. And I’ve instituted new programs to help veterans.

So many have fought for this country, and now they’re fighting for their dream of running a business.  We’re going to help them do just that.  Check out our Boots to Business Program.

But the fight for economic power is not one that should be waged only in state capitals and Washington. It’s a fight that must be waged every day, everywhere. When NCLR members help families secure affordable housing, you’re providing them stability and peace of mind. When you work for a community-based group that’s investing in charter schools and skills training, you’re providing the knowledge that’s essential to economic progress. When you work for a health organization that’s promoting nutrition and preventive care, you’re promoting wellness and longevity, which are critical to our advancement. When you’re part of a supplier diversity team or a corporate philanthropy department, you’re creating ways for our community to succeed and our economy to grow.

So my only request for you today is a simple one: Remember that you have a partner in the SBA. I want SBA to stand for Smart… Bold… Accessible. We are pressing forward to make the SBA modern through smart systems, helping small business make bold moves into new markets with an inclusive view. We’re seasoned, committed, free business consultants who are ready to serve you every day through our Veterans Business Outreach Centers, Women’s Business Centers, Small Business Development Centers and SCORE volunteers.

It’s our job, our mission, and our passion to help aspiring entrepreneurs succeed. If we work together, there’s nothing we can’t accomplish. We are bound only by our own imagination and efforts. Brothers and sisters: We can advance civil rights and market rights if we vote at the ballot box and at the local mall for those businesses who support our local community.

Let’s make small business a big deal. The future is ours to claim, so let’s claim it. That way, we won’t just have that hamburger at the lunch counter. We will own the restaurant! God bless you, God bless NCLR, and God bless the United States of America.