Small business owners breathe sigh of relief as Obama taps SBA leader


President Barack Obama announces he will nominate Maria Contreras-Sweet (left) as the head of the Small Business Administration. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

It had been nearly a year since the White House started searching for a new leader for the Small Business Administration, and more than four months since the former top executive gave up the wait and departed, leaving the agency in the hands of a more-than-capable but not-quite-official interim leader.

During that time, the complex health care law rolled out, hundreds of new federal regulations were proposed and implemented, and at one point, the federal government actually ground to a complete halt. Meanwhile, lawmakers started mulling whether the government even needed a stand-alone small-business department.

So, when the president finally introduced Maria Contreras-Sweet as his nominee for Small Business Administrator on Wednesday, you could almost hear the collective sigh of relief coming from Main Street. And it turns out, small business owners, lenders and lobbyists aren’t just excited to have a nominee on deck — most we spoke to are excited about the president’s selection, too.

Related: Meet Maria Contreras-Sweet, the nominee for SBA Administrator

Still, a select few raised some questions about the decision, as you can see below.

Here’s a sampling of what we heard from the small business community in response to the announcement, and as you’ll notice, many took the opportunity to emphasize the agency’s vital role.

Beth Solomon, president of the National Association of Development Companies, an advocacy group for small-business lenders: “We are very pleased to welcome a new administrator, especially a community banker, to lead the critical work of the SBA, which has been a lifeline for America’s small businesses in these economically challenging times. While Wall Street is thriving, Main Street urgently needs the nation’s focus and support to create the jobs America needs. This nomination is a step in the right direction.”

Katie Vlietstra, vice president for government relations and public affairs at the National Association for the Self-Employed: “We are optimistic that with the announcement of Maria Contreras-Sweet to lead the Small Business Administration, President Obama and his Administration will be focused on fostering and encouraging the entrepreneurial spirit of this country... Our community will need a strong and vocal advocate inside the Administration to ensure we have the tools and resources to be competitive not only locally, but also globally.”

Paula Antonovich, chief operating officer of Dougherty & Associates Inc. (DAI), a communications and human resources firm in Alexandria, Va.: “We are delighted that President Obama nominated Ms. Contreras-Sweet. She brings a wealth of experience, and her track record is a testament to her commitment to small businesses. While we know she has a great deal on her plate, we hope she will focus some of her energy on securing the role and position of small businesses, and particularly, women-owned small businesses, in federal procurements.”

Steve Caldeira, chief executive of the International Franchise Association: “The SBA Administrator plays a critical role in ensuring the voice of the small business community is heard within the administration and IFA looks forward to a swift confirmation for Maria Contreras-Sweet. Her impressive background in the public and private sector will ensure the administration fills the vacancy left by former Administrator Mills, who was a strong champion for small business and franchising.”

David Ickert, owner of AirTractor, Inc., a small agricultural aircraft manufacturer in Olney, Tex.:“I am very pleased to see that we now have a nominee. Hopefully, confirmation can move forward quickly to complete this process in order to put in place fixed leadership for this very important agency. Continued focus on access to capital for small businesses, in my opinion, should be a priority.”

John Arensmeyer, chief executive of Small Business Majority, a lobbying group: “Ms. Contreras-Sweet has focused extensively on access to capital for a segment of the small business community that has more trouble getting capital than most, so she understands the pressing need for credit and capital of many small business owners — the single biggest role of the SBA. [She has also] served as a cabinet secretary in government coordinating with other cabinet secretaries and senior executive staff, something she will need to do at the federal level.”

Javier Palomarez, president of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce: “Maria Contreras-Sweet is the epitome of a successful entrepreneur and social innovator, whose professional accomplishments make her the best and most qualified candidate to head the Small Business Administration.”

Clifton Broumand, president of Man & Machine Inc., a small firm in Landover, Md. that produces computer hardware for use in operating rooms and other hospital environments: “It took long enough... but that said, I find it quite interesting is that the nominee has a background both running small businesses and helping small businesses, and I think that’s key. Sometimes, bankers have no clue, because they don’t have experience being an entrepreneur. I think the fact that she has been on both sides will be a real positive for small businesses around the country.”

David Levine, chief executive of the American Sustainable Business Council, a consortium of business advocacy groups: “Her experience demonstrates a deep understanding of the needs of small business, most importantly access to capital. ASBC looks forward to working with Ms. Contreras-Sweet on issues vital to building a sustainable economy, such as crowdfunding, incentivizing innovation and implementing the health care law for small businesses.”

Sen. Mary Landrieu, chair of the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee: “Mrs. Contreras-Sweet has an impressive background as both an entrepreneur and a small business lender, giving her a unique understanding of the importance of increasing access to capital for America’s job creators. I look forward to reviewing her record and hearing her views on how the SBA should move forward to help America’s nearly 28 million small businesses continue to grow.”

Rep. Sam Graves, chair of the House Small Business Committee: “Small businesses have been bombarded with a flood of regulations, a health care law that stifles growth, and a constant fear of tax increases during the past five years. I hope the new SBA Administrator will give a voice to small businesses in this White House and redirect the SBA to focus on its core missions of capital access, contracting, and counseling while reducing duplication, overlap, and wasteful spending.”

Rohit Arora, chief executive of Biz2Credit, an online small business lending platform: “She is a supporter of immigrant and family-owned businesses, understands the challenges of today’s entrepreneurs, and has ties to the Latino community, the fastest growing segment of small business owners.”

“However, does she have the experience to run a big, complicated federal agency like the SBA? One of the organization’s biggest challenges in the 21st century is that it needs a technology overhaul,” Arora continued, noting that Contreras-Sweet’s bank, ProAmérica Bank, does not offer online commercial loan applications. “The SBA needs to modernize, and part of her role as administrator will be to lead this charge.”

Follow J.D. Harrison and On Small Business on Twitter.

J.D. Harrison covers startups, small business and entrepreneurship, with a focus on public policy, and he manages the Post's On Small Business blog.
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