At her recent confirmation hearing, Maria Contreras-Sweet, the newly nominated chief of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), promised to do more to promote the agency’s services. Contreras-Sweet said she understood what small businesses go through based on her own startup experience. There are about 2,400 SBA lenders, including ProAmérica Bank, the community bank that Contreras-Sweet founded with the help of family and friends in 2006. The SBA nominee said not enough is done to simplify the process for small community banks that want to offer SBA backed loans, and more must be done to help these banks understand the process so that they want to become an SBA backed lender. Contreras-Sweet added that more must be done to promote SBA backed loans and other products to small businesses.
Contreras-Sweet advocates the same approach when seeking to get more businesses involved bidding for government contracts. The Small Business Administration reported that only 22.25 percent of an estimated $400 billion in government contracts went to small businesses in 2012. That is reportedly about $3 billion short of the federal government’s goal. Contreras-Sweet says hitting that goal in the future would require more effort from the agency to explain the process of getting government contracts so that more small businesses will bid. It would also require “de-bundling” larger government contracts often given to larger corporations to be sure that small businesses get their share, according to Contreras-Sweet.
Contreras-Sweet once served in the cabinet of California’s state government. She has made loans backed by the SBA and run a state agency larger than the SBA in number of employees and annual budget. She is a native of Mexico, and has roots in the fast-growing community of Hispanic entrepreneurs.
The position of SBA Administrator has remained unfilled since the departure of former Administrator Karen Mills in February of 2013. President Barack Obama nominated Contreras-Sweet for the position in January 2014. Contreras-Sweet is considered by many to be a well-qualified candidate, given her background and experience. It is uncertain when she might be confirmed.