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Speeches & Op-Eds

National Small Business Week Town Hall

Speech Date: 
Monday, May 21, 2012
Speech Location: 
Washington, DC
As Prepared For: 
Karen G. Mills, SBA Administrator

Let me start by recognizing Marie Johns, our fabulous Deputy Administrator. She is doing amazing work for small businesses around the country. She is a proven leader, a change agent and a tireless advocate for your businesses.

National Small Business Week is one of my favorite times of the year. I love hearing your stories. Learning about your businesses. It truly is inspiring.

The businesses we are honoring over the next few days embody America’s entrepreneurial spirit -- and our ability to create cutting-edge products and services that are revolutionizing industries.

They are companies—like Chobani— who in just a few years turned an old Kraft yogurt plant in New York into a dominant player in the Greek yogurt business, employing more than 1,200 workers.

They are businesses—like Rekluse—in Boise, Idaho, which created an innovative motorcycle clutch that is now being sold to professional racers and weekend enthusiasts around the globe.

And they are entrepreneurs—like Sarah Calhoun from Montana—who saw that clothing companies weren’t making the right clothes for women, like her, who spent time working on farms and ranches and doing other heavy labor. So she started her own line—Red Ants Pants—of heavy-duty work wear for women. 

I could go on all day highlighting the businesses you’ve built.

But let me just say this: Each and every one of you is a testament to the enduring drive of America’s entrepreneurs. And to the power of small businesses to change lives and transform communities.

At the SBA, and across the Administration, we’re focused on making sure that you have the tools and resources you need to grow your businesses—and to create good jobs in your communities.

When people ask me what the SBA does I like to say: We’re the agency that works with the businesses who create two out of every three net new jobs in the U.S.

You’ve seen the data:

  • 28 million small businesses in the U.S.
  • You employee 60 million Americans
  • That’s half of the private sector workforce

So how do we support your businesses?

We are focused on what we call the three Cs and a D: Access to Capital, Counseling, Contracting and Disaster Relief.

I know many of you have worked with us in one of these areas. But today I want to urge you to look at the full range of our services.

Let’s go through them:

The first C is Capital:

How many of you have used an SBA loan to grow and support your business?

Last year was a record year for the SBA. We supported more than $30 billion in lending to over 60,000 small businesses across the country.

And behind each of those loans is a story.

A story of a business looking to grow or a budding entrepreneur who is ready to take that leap of faith and strike out on their own.

It’s the story of people like Tom Johnson, who I met in Michigan. Tom worked at Chrysler for 16 years, but his dream was always to run his own business. So he used an SBA loan to open a Culvers restaurant. It’s doing great. And now Tom is looking to open a second location.  

We know how important access to capital is for starting and growing a business. And we are continually working to streamline and improve our loan programs.

For example, we reengineered our CAPLines program to make sure that small businesses who win big orders have the cash-on-hand they need to service these orders.

Since the re-engineered program was implemented in September 2011, we’ve seen a more than 220 percent increase in approvals through this working capital financing program.

In addition to our core loan programs, we also had a record year of $2.6 billion in growth capital delivered to businesses through our Small Business Investment Companies.

This is the program that has helped many high-growth businesses get started. Perhaps you heard of a few of them: Apple, Fed Ex, Costco and Intel.

And as many of you know, we’ve worked to broaden the reach of these programs through a new Impact Investment Fund—that is focused on economically distressed regions—and an Early Stage Fund, which opened earlier this month, that is focused on filling gaps in angel stage investing.

The second C is Contracting

How many of you sell to the Federal Government?

We help small firms access nearly $100 billion in federal contracting opportunities annually.

Contracting is a win-win. Small businesses get access to an important revenue stream. And the government gets to work with some of the most innovative businesses in the country.

Just last week I was in Nashville at a Department of Defense conference focused on making sure that more small businesses are able to work with the DoD. The opportunities are there across the Federal government – and we want to work with you to make them happen.

The third C is Counseling

How many of you have a mentor or use our counseling services?

I should see every hand go up. It’s a free service – and our research shows it makes a tremendous difference in the long-term success of a small business.

At the SBA, we have a network of 900 Small Business Development Centers. 110 Women’s Business Centers. And 12,000 participants in our SCORE Network. This is our bone structure.

Last year, these programs reached more than 1 million small business owners.

And more than 2.5 million entrepreneurs have accessed free online training since 2009 through our expanded online resources.

The D is Disaster Relief:

We provide approximately $750 million in direct loans to homeowners and businesses following hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding and other natural disasters. And we have a 2,000 person disaster readiness team prepared to respond to natural disasters.

Your will hear more about our Disaster Relief work at the Phoenix Awards Lunch.

That is the core of what we do at the SBA (capital, contracting, counseling, and disaster) – and we are continually looking to improve, streamline and coordinate our programs so that we can better serve you – our customers.

And I’d just like to take a moment to thank all of the staff at the SBA, and all of our resource partners, for the work they’ve done to improve and strengthen our programs.

Please give them a round of applause, as I know many are watching via streaming video around the country.

NAVIGATING THE CRISIS

I started this job three years ago.

The economy our Administration inherited was in bad shape.

And times were particularly hard for America’s small businesses.

Commercial credit markets were frozen. And stable, well-run businesses were struggling to get the access to capital they needed to run their operations.

Our Administration made helping these businesses a top priority.

So what have we done?

The President cut taxes 18 times for small businesses.  This includes new tax credits for hiring unemployed workers and veterans, and allowing small businesses to write off the full cost of new investments in things like new machines and computers against last year’s taxes.

And the President recently called on Congress to pass legislation that gives a 10 percent tax credit to firms that create new jobs or increase wages in 2012. And we want to extend 100 percent expensing in 2012 for all businesses.

We also passed the Recovery Act and the Small Business Jobs Act, the most significant piece of small business legislation in more than a decade.

This legislation gave us more flexibility to get capital flowing again to your businesses.

Since 2009, we’ve supported over $79 billion in loans to more than 150,000 small businesses.

We also worked with 13 of the nation's largest banks to secure a $20 billion commitment to increase small business lending over the next three years.
And we brought more than 1,000 community banks back to SBA lending for the first time since 2007.

We know there’s more work to be done, but we’re seeing commercial lending improving.

And where lending gaps remain, particularly for smaller loans and underserved communities, we’re working aggressively to fill them.

ECONOMY HAS TURNED THE CORNER

Today, when I sit down with small business owners, it’s a very different conversation than it was three years ago. Today, we talk about expansion. About hiring more employees. About suppliers who want to add capacity to fill a large order. We talk about opportunities to grow sales by targeting lucrative export markets.

In the last 26 months our economy has created more than 4.2 million private sector jobs – many of them at small businesses – and more than triple the number of jobs added during the last economic recovery in 2002-2004.

And if you look at our economy today – and if you look at the policies we’ve implemented across the Administration over the last few years– you see that what we’ve done is put into place the foundation for what the President calls an economy built to last.

An economy that’s not built on the next bubble—but on small business growth, on investments in entrepreneurship, on advanced manufacturing and on increased exporting.

And, as we go forward, we are building on this foundation in ways that make our economy more resilient and more inclusive.

So what are we doing?

We are increasing skills training for American workers, strengthening our supply chain of small businesses through the American Supplier Initiative and tools like Supplier Connection

Supplier Connection is a portal IBM Foundation built to make it easier for small businesses to tap into the supply chain of major U.S. companies.

Today, there are 16 corporations signed up, including Citi, Facebook and major manufacturers like John Deere and Caterpillar.

The participating companies have a supply chain of more than $300 billion – and they are looking to work with more small businesses. This is an exciting public-private partnership – and I urge everyone here today to sign up for this important tool.

This is what National Small Businesses Week is all about: Opening more doors for entrepreneurs in more communities across that country.

And ensuring that you have the types of resources…whether it’s Supplier Connection or SBA.gov…that allow you to start and grow your businesses. What we are focused on is access and opportunity.

I was with the President last week. We were at a sandwich shop, called Taylor Gourmet, just a few miles from this hotel. The owners had a simple business concept. You couldn’t get a good hoagie in DC.

I guess they were right because their business is booming.

Today they have four shops with plans to open a fifth…and SBA worked with them to get the financing they needed to grow.

With us at the shop were Kathy Rachels. She is a Korean immigrant who, with SBA support, has built a chain of organic grocery stores. During the event, she turned to the President and said: I am living the American Dream.

And Brian Smith was there. He started a contracting and construction firm, after decades of experience working for others. He is now doing business with the Federal government. He is the win-win we talk about…when we talk about the power of Federal contracting.

The entrepreneurs and small business owners I met with the President -- and the ones here today, are why America’s best days are still ahead.

And it’s why the President, the SBA and this Administration are committed to doing everything we can to make sure your businesses can thrive.

America’s greatest strength has always been rooted in the ingenuity of our small businesses, the imagination and diversity of our entrepreneurs and the productivity of the American worker.

It’s this powerful combination that has built the greatest economy in the world. It has produced the greatest innovations in the world. And it has helped lift generations of Americans into the middle class.

Together, we can make sure this proud tradition continues.

And, together, we can create an America that’s built to last. Thank you.