A New Leader Emerges for the SBA

President Barack Obama has tapped a banker from Los Angeles as his next choice to lead the U.S. Small Business Administration.

His nominee is Maria Contreras-Sweet, founder and chairwoman of ProAmérica Bank, which focuses its services on small and midsized businesses and Latino entrepreneurs. Contreras-Sweet was born in Guadalajara, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was five years old.

Contreras-Sweet, 58, started the bank in 2006. In his nomination announcement, the president said her work there qualifies her to oversee the SBA.

“Maria knows how hard it is to get started on a business — the grueling hours, the stress, the occasional self-doubt,” Obama said. “… So, not only did she start small businesses, but those have also been her customers, and she understands all too often that the lack of access to capital means a lack of opportunity.”

Prior to opening ProAmérica Bank, Contreras-Sweet served as secretary of the state of California’s Business, Transportation, and Housing Agency from 1999 to 2003.

If she is confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Contreras-Sweet will succeed Karen Mills, who stepped down as SBA administrator in August to become a senior fellow at the Harvard Business School.

The four-month vacancy had prompted speculation that the organization of the SBA would change. Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., introduced a bill that would place the SBA under the umbrella of a new Department of Commerce and the Workforce, a move designed to eliminate any duplication of services by the departments of Commerce and Labor.

The SBA was established in 1953 to provide support for small businesses and their owners. Its programs offer management and financial assistance and special outreach services for women, minorities, and military veterans.

About Carla Turchetti

Carla Turchetti is a veteran print and broadcast journalist with a passion for small businesses and the stories behind them. Her work currently appears on Infusionsoft's Big Ideas Blog and in the News & Observer, the regional daily newspaper in Raleigh, NC.
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