Congressman Donald Manzullo, a Republican from Illinois and chairman of the House Small Business Committee, maintains that a lot has been done to help small companies. "One of the greatest things this president did for small businesses was to sign the bill that repealed the oppressive ergonomics regulations. That was a horrible unfounded mandate that hurt small businesses," he says. "He then did tax relief that allows small businesses the ability to expense more along with a bonused appreciation, and the overall tax cuts helped out a lot of small-business people. Also, tax relief in terms of the repeal of the death tax [estate tax] for small business allows the business to be passed on to succeeding generations without an unfair tax burden. On the committee, we have worked with the SBA administrator on a number of issues, including lowering the cost of 7(a) loans. Can more be done? Of course. Has a lot been done so far? Absolutely."
With the U.S. economy still in slow motion, Mr. Barreto prefers to focus on immediate steps to foster small-business prosperity. Last year, he says, his agency made loans totaling nearly $1 billion to Hispanic firms, and this year the number of loans to Hispanics will rise 45 percent. "The president's small-business agenda is designed to create an environment where entrepreneurship can flourish by providing small businesses with the information needed to succeed, saving taxpayer dollars by ensuring open competition to government contracts, and tearing down regulatory barriers," he explains.
As administrator, Mr. Barreto hopes to use technology to create a "new SBA" for the 21st century. Currently, the Web site www.SBA.gov gets more than 1.5 million visitors every week, and the Spanish-language version (www.negocios.gov) now has an average of 50,000 visitors per week. Mr. Barreto plans to put the application for the 8(a) program online and hopes to have it operational within a year.
Internationally, the SBA recently signed a memorandum of understanding with two economic agencies in Mexico - the Secretaría de Economía (Economy Secretariat) and the Agencia Nacional Financiera (National Financing Agency) - to promote business between U.S. small businesses and their counterparts in Mexico. Under the agreement, businesses would share information to facilitate joint ventures, licensing, subcontracting, and product distribution. "By helping small businesses across the border to increase their productivity and competitiveness, as well as promoting more bilateral trade, this agreement will encourage a climate of economic development and job creation in both countries," says Mr. Barreto, a Mexican American.
One of the SBA's most successful projects this year is a series of matchmaking events patterned after the Latino Business Expo in Los Angeles, which Mr. Barreto started during his tenure as chairman of the Latin Business Association. After a rollout at the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Conference in January (see "Sunshine State Summit," March issue), the event went on the road to pair up major corporations and government agencies with small suppliers. The culmination will be the National Entrepreneurial Conference and Expo, part of the 50th anniversary celebration in Washington, D.C., on September 17-19.
Then, beginning in October, the SBA will sponsor a series of public forums at which entrepreneurs will have an opportunity to talk to SBA officials about how the agency can best serve their needs. "When I was a small businessman, I knew about the SBA but I didn't realize how many things it does and how much it could help," says Mr. Barreto. "Now that I'm here and familiar with the agency, I'm here to reach out, be a partner to small businesses, and be very customer-centric."
Even through a recession, a slow recovery, the September 11 terrorist attacks, and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the SBA has made progress in helping small companies in general and Hispanic ones in particular, according to Mr. Barreto. "Small business isn't small when you consider what [these companies] contribute to the economy, and we want to do as much as possible to help," he says. "I am very confident about what we are doing now and where we are going."
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