Small businesses are creating jobs and driving the economic recovery. And the U.S. Small Business Administration's role is to help those ventures, by providing access to capital, federal contracts and business counseling, the organization's top executive said Wednesday in Miami.
"Our job in Washington is simple: Put the wind at the backs of small businesses," said SBA Administrator Karen G. Mills, delivering the keynote speech at the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce trustee luncheon at Jungle Island in Miami.
Small businesses create two out of every three new jobs, and more than half of all working Americans own or work for a small business, Mills said. At the same time, SBA-guaranteed loans are three to five times more likely to go to a minority-owned business or a woman-owned business than are conventional loans, she said.
"So SBA loans are critical in diverse communities like this, in Southern Florida," Mills told the audience.
During the past two years, more than 1,000 lenders have returned to SBA lending nationwide. In South Florida alone, banks made 2,500 SBA loans totaling $1.3 billion. Of those, 500 of the loans went to Hispanic business owners, said Mills, who is based in Washington, D.C.
Still, there is more work to do, particularly here.
"Lending is back up to 2008 levels, but we are not back in underserved communities and we are not back when it comes to small loans," Mills said. The SBA is also working with lenders to finance more small exporters, which is key in South Florida.
Earlier in the morning, Mills led a roundtable meeting of small business owners, bankers and community leaders at the SBA's downtown Miami offices. Among Hispanic small business owners' concerns, said Lilliam Lopez, president of the South Florida Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, is that "it's so difficult" to get an SBA-guaranteed loan.
"The SBA brand is too much paperwork, too much time," Mills acknowledged. "We're on a mission to change the brand by changing the activity."
Many loans can now be approved much faster, in less than 10 days, she said. And the organization is working on streamlining the application process.
Other roundtable members, such as Georgi Zaczac Jr., president and chief executive of Bread Partners Holdings, the largest Au Bon Pain franchisee in the United States, said the agency needs to expand its outreach efforts.
"Why not start educating people about SBA at the college level?" he said. "That's where entrepreneurs are created."
While loan volume is coming back, Mills agreed the agency must redouble its efforts to walk people through the process. The end result is creating jobs.
"We have to be on the ground," she said, "helping people, one by one, by one."
It was Mills' first visit to Miami as SBA Administrator. After spending her career owning and investing in small businesses, Mills was appointed SBA Administrator in 2009 by President Obama.
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