California’s Maria Contreras-Sweet is new SBA chief

March 28, 2014 1
California’s Maria Contreras-Sweet is new SBA chiefMaria Contreras-Sweet

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), a federal agency that backed more than $29 billion in small business loans in 2013, has a new leader.

On March 27, the U.S. Senate confirmed California banker Maria Contreras-Sweet as the new head of the SBA. She replaces Karen Mills, who stepped down last August.

The SBA has become much more important to the self-storage sector in recent years. In 2010, self-storage was added as a property type for SBA loans. According to self-storage financial advisory firm The BSC Group, two types of SBA loans are available for self-storage facilities: SBA 7(a) and SBA 504.

‘Fierce Champion’
In a statement, President Obama said that with Contreras-Sweet at the helm of the SBA, “the American people will have a fierce champion who understands what it means to start a small business, and who has a proven track record of helping other small businesses succeed.”

Two years ago, Obama elevated the SBA to a Cabinet-level agency, giving it more influence in the White House and on Capitol Hill.

Contreras-Sweet is founder of Los Angeles-based ProAmérica Bank, which lends money to small and midsize businesses, particularly those run by Latino entrepreneurs. She also is former head of the California Business, Transportation and Housing Agency. Contreras-Sweet immigrated to California from Mexico at age 5.

“As we work to keep our economy growing, Maria will be charged with looking for more ways to support small businesses,” Obama said.

Maria Contreras-Sweet

President Obama introduces Maria Contreras-Sweet as Jeanne Hulit (right) looks on.

Sweet Praise
U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, a Washington Democrat, said she thinks Contreras-Sweet will be a “strong advocate” for small businesses, which create two of every three new jobs in the U.S.

“Every single day, we need to think about small businesses in our community and how much we need to help and support them,” Cantwell said.

U.S. Sen. Diane Feinstein, a California Democrat, noted that as the founder of ProAmérica Bank, Contreras-Sweet “knows firsthand what it takes to run and grow a small business.”

“With so many Americans who earn moderate incomes having trouble getting approved for loans, this kind of support is essential to growing job-creating small businesses,” Feinstein said.

SBA Concerns
When Contrera-Sweet’s nomination was announced in January by the White House, U.S. Rep. Sam Graves, a Missouri Democrat who chairs the House Small Business Committee, said he was disappointed that Obama had taken so long to name a new SBA chief.

“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,” Graves said. “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.”

‘Unique Perspective’
For her part, Contreras-Sweet said her background as an entrepreneur, a state government official and a corporate executive will give her a “unique perspective” as leader of the SBA.

“SBA’s record levels of lending helped pull us out of one of the nation’s worst economic periods, and the agency has streamlined and simplified many processes, reduced paperwork and become more customeroriented than ever before,” she said.

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