Breaking news flashed across my screen on Friday the 13th: President Obama elevates Small Business Administration to cabinet level position;Karen Mills to be Cabinet Secretary. I sat in amazement, thinking: Finally, the importance of small business to our economy is more than just the rhetoric of political pundits. We’ll have a seat at the table and an advocate who understands not only the needs of small business owners, but also the roles we play in economic advancement.
Over the next few days, discussion among colleagues abounded and inevitable questions arose. SBA was a cabinet position when Clinton was president, but was downgraded; what’s its longevity this time around? Is consolidation of SBA, Commerce, Export-Import Bank, Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, Overseas Private Investment Corp. and the Trade and Development Agency a good move, or will it diminish SBA’s effectiveness?Our consensus during these debates included unanimous kudos for placing SBA at the Cabinet Table and Secretary Mills as advocate of a substantive small business agenda.But we had mixed views on the potential impact of the proposed consolidation.
Pros of the alignment could include an increase in programs to grow small business. There is also a track record of success in cross-agency collaboration: through Obama’s National Export Initiative, trade agencies, including SBA, Export-Import Bank, Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, Census, Commerce and Agriculture, are working together to provide materials and services. For example, SBA recently led a project in conjunction with these agencies through which my business — CarrotNewYork — produced an interactive online manual for small businesses interested in growing their companies via exporting.
But there are concerns about the consolidation, too. These include fear that interests of small business could be diluted; that SBA’s visibility and ability to impact policy could lessen; that the much-needed funding for staffing and programs will not come; and that we’ll eventually lose the Cabinet seat that we just won. Either way, there’s much to be learned before the consolidation takes place.
Small business owners are an amazing and diverse group, and we look to SBA to provide programs and services that address this diversity.We come in different sizes and from different industries, ranging from service to manufacturing.Our goals and needs differ, too, and together we touch every sector of our economy.
At a recent conference, I spoke on a panel comprised of a “green” architect and an environmental engineer. What we had in common is that we’re favorably impacted by the Women-Owned Small Business Federal Contract Program, which expands our access to federal contracting opportunities. Ten years in the making, this program was a giant step forward — and was made possible by the diligence of SBA.
What’s important with new cabinet-level elevation and the agency consolidation is that SBA continues to keep abreast of — and react to — small business needs in an ever-changing environment.
Janice M. Hamilton is the president and founder of CarrotNewYork, a New York firm that creates programs that inspire a shift toward healthy behavior in areas of health and wellness, environment, financial literacy and issues affecting youth.