NASA Small Business Symposium

Speech Date: 
Thursday, November 3, 2011
Speech Location: 
As Prepared For: 
Karen Mills, SBA Administrator

Thank you, Glenn. And thanks to Administrator Bolden and everyone at NASA.  Good morning everyone.

It’s a treat to be here because when I was a kid, one of my dreams was go into space – to be an astronaut.  I’m sure that many of you can relate.

But I grew up in a small business family.  So, as I got older, I followed a different dream.  I went to business school. I started owning, managing, and investing in small businesses across the U.S.

The “astronaut dream” faded a bit… until 1998, when I saw John Glenn going up in Discovery at the age of 77.  I thought, “There’s still time.  Maybe one day…”

Needless to say, when NASA announced the date of the last shuttle launch this summer, I made plans to be there.  I took a tour of Kennedy.  I heard about how nearly all 50 States contributed to the different parts in the shuttle. 

I thought about all the small firms that developed new technologies to make it happen – thousands, I’m sure.  And I thought, “This is such a great symbol of American entrepreneurship. What a perfect tribute.”

So first, I want to say thank you all for your contributions – small, large, direct and indirect – to the Shuttle Program.

But today, I’m also here because small businesses like yours are ready to build on that legacy. You’re ready to start writing the next chapter of human spaceflight. 

The President recently said something in Pittsburgh that stuck with me.  He said “the story of America’s success is written by America’s entrepreneurs – men and women who took a chance on a dream and they turned that dream into a business – and somehow changed the world.”

The President was talking about people like you. How many small businesses are here today?

You’re some of the most innovative, creative, and nimble businesses in America.  You provide cutting-edge technologies and services to the federal government – and you do it at a tremendous value to taxpayers.  NASA knows that.  So do the larger prime contractors here today.

Just as importantly, you’re critical to creating the jobs we need now.  Small businesses create about 2 of every 3 new jobs.  More than half of working Americans either or own work for small business.

So you’re not just important to helping meet NASA’s mission as it moves forward – you’re also important to our economy overall.

Today, more than ever, we need to make sure you have the tools you need to succeed.  I want to talk about a couple of ways we can do that.

Right up-front, NASA itself is already on the right track.  The agency gets it.

Valerie Jarrett is the President’s Senior Adviser.  She and I have met each quarter with agency leaders at the White House to talk about small business contracting goals.

For FY 2010, we had the 2nd consecutive increase under this Administration.  22.7% of contracts went to small firms government-wide, just shy of the 23% goal.

NASA always seems to have good news to report.  In FY09, NASA put $2.2 billion in your hands.  In FY10, that rose to $2.4 billion.  FY11 just ended.  The numbers are still coming in, but we can already tell that NASA is going to have another bump.  I want to congratulate everyone at NASA for that, especially the folks you’ll honor later today who have been such advocates within the agency.     

In particular, I want to recognize NASA for leading the way with the women-owned small business program.  As you may know, it just started this year.

Where are our woman-owned firms?  This new program is now helping firms like yours in over 300 industries where they’re underrepresented.

Today, I’m pleased to have my first-ever opportunity to highlight a firm that benefited from this program…

A woman-owned firm based down in Norfolk won the first NASA contract under this program – The Moore Group. They’re going to provide leadership and management training to NASA leaders at the John Glenn Research Center in Cleveland.  They call it “Leadership University” – I like the sound of that.

That’s great news.  I look forward to hearing more success stories that result from this program.

The President has been crystal clear: He wants everyone throughout the Administration to use tools like this to maximize opportunities for small contractors.

That’s a big reason he signed the Small Business Jobs Act last year – the most significant piece of small business legislation in over a decade.

It had 19 provisions to help businesses like yours compete for the $500 billion in federal contracts.  We went around the country and talked to small businesses like yours to make sure we’re implementing these provisions right.

I heard excitement around 5 provisions, in particular:

We reaffirmed parity so that all set-aside programs are on a level playing field – HUBZone, 8(a), women-owned and service-disabled veteran-owned.  That’s fair.  That’s how it should be.

We gave contracting officers the flexibility to set aside orders on contracts that have multiple parts.  That includes the GSA Schedule.

We stopped the ill-named Competitiveness Demonstration program.  It had a nice name, but it actually took billions away from small firms like yours.

We put teeth in our ability to take legal action against firms that misrepresent their size or ownership.  We can’t let them get away with that.

We’re holding large primes more accountable to their subcontracting plans.  They’ll need to put it in writing if and when they try to make big changes.

In addition to these contracting tools, I should also mention that the Small Business Jobs Act helped with access to capital – in a big way.  In fact, FY11 was an all-time record year for SBA loans with support for $30 billion in lending to 60,000 small firms.

So we’re putting more tools in your hands than ever before.  But we need to do even more at this crucial moment when the economy is showing signs of growth. 

That’s why the President  is calling on Congress to pass the American Jobs Act.  The #1 priority of this plan is to help small businesses do what you do best – create jobs.

What’s in it for you?  A lot:

It will cut in half the payroll taxes for all small businesses.  It will eliminate payroll taxes when you add new jobs or give raises.

It extends 100% expensing through 2012.  That means more money in your pockets to buy that next piece of equipment.

It gives tax credits of thousands of dollars each for hiring those who’ve been unemployed and for our nation’s veterans. 

Veterans have fought for us.  They shouldn’t have to fight for a job when they get home.

It means billions more to repair our roads, bridges, airports.  And even more to modernize our schools so that our students have the chance to excel in areas like science, technology and engineering. I strongly believe that we need those kids in the pipeline so that they can be sitting at conferences like this in the years to come – building on what people like you have already accomplished.

There are so many reasons that Congress needs to pass the American Jobs Act.  And they should do it right now.  We can’t wait any longer.

And, in fact, we’re not waiting.  The Administration is taking action in areas where we don’t need Congress.  One example is particularly important.

A month ago, the President told all of the federal agencies to cut in half the time it took to pay small business contractors like you. From 30 days to 15 days. It’s called QuickPay.

Some people who aren’t small business owners have asked me, Why is this such a big deal?  They don’t know what you and I know: Cash flow is king.

When you consistently pay a business quicker, that’s a permanent infusion of cash flow into your business.  You can put that money towards working capital, marketing, expansion, and, yes, more jobs.  With nearly $100 billion each year in federal contracts to small businesses, this can add up to billions more in the hands of firms like yours.

It’s worth noting that the President himself takes the time to understand things like QuickPay – and to direct the agencies to make them happen – even while he’s still pushing for Congress to pass the American Jobs Act.

There’s one other area where we can’t wait – and it revolves directly around NASA.  I saw a blog post that Administrator Bolden posted on Monday.  The first line was this: “Neither NASA nor the Space Coast can afford to stand still.”  He outlined several ways that the community will keep moving forward with space exploration – and job creation – in Space Coast.

From a new partnership with Boeing and the State of Florida… to work on Orion, which will take us further into the solar system than ever before… to more involvement from private companies that are pursuing commercial spaceflight.

At SBA, we’re doing our part, too. Just a month ago, we awarded over $2.1 million to Space Florida to develop a regional innovation cluster – focused on clean energy.

The idea is that we take the research foundation – that is already there… We take the brilliant minds – which are already there… And we leverage the state-of-the-art resources – which are already there, too.  

And then we give it all a little extra muscle.

Our people and our partners are going to be working closely with Space Florida: to make new connections happen with entrepreneurs… to drive commercialization of new ideas… and to help these firms create good jobs in a growing industry.

I’ll share one more important way we’re working for you – and then I’ll close.

How many of you are familiar with the Small Business Innovation Research program?

SBIR is a competitive program draws out the best-of-the-best in small business R&D.  It provides $2.5 billion each year from 11 agencies to the most promising small firms. 

About one-fourth of R&D Magazine’s “top 100” innovations in past years were SBIR-driven products.

This year, SBA gave 44 national awards to trailblazing firms that have made a big impact through SBIR.  They’re called Tibbetts Awards.  Not surprisingly, nearly one-third (13) of these awards went to firms that came out of NASA’s SBIR program.

I’ll mention one – from my home state of Maine.  Fiber Materials, Inc., is in a town called Biddeford. The firm develops lightweight composites that can withstand high temperatures.  They helped make a capsule for NASA to collect dust from a passing comet.  They’ve participated in SBIR almost since the year the program started in 1983. 

Today, they have about 170 employees.  When he got this award, the owner, Spencer Tolis, said that opportunities he got through SBIR became a “cornerstone of his business.”

Right now, the Administration is working closely with Congress to ensure that SBIR has a long-term reauthorization.  Everyone knows it works.  We’re going to keep the pressure on, so that even more businesses can use SBIR to write their own success stories and create jobs.

Stories like Fiber Materials and The Moore Group that I mentioned earlier are what this symposium is all about.

As the President said, the story of America’s success is written by you – America’s entrepreneurs. You’re “taking chances.”  You’re “turning your dreams into a business.”  And yes, “you’re changing the world.”

We need to foster that entrepreneurial spirit not only in this NASA community… but across our entire Nation – in every sector and industry.

The President has declared this month as National Entrepreneurship Month.  And I’m glad you’re all here to help us celebrate. 

I know that small business owners like you come to these conferences because you need to recharge. You need to get some inspiration, some new ideas, some new partners to help you take that next big step.  I hope you all take time to do just that.

And, just as importantly, I hope you take that energy back to your employees, to your communities, and to the next generation of young people who have that flicker of a dream in their eyes.

Who knows?   A wide-eyed young girl with big dreams might see the work that you’re doing – and she might set her sights on the first manned spaceflight to Mars.

Thank you.