Contreras-Sweet is ‘Counting the Days’

By Charles H. Green

Maria Contreras-Sweet has been in office barely more than a month, but she’s already tracking how many days she has remaining — and how much work there is to be done.

As she told the Washington Post, “We have about 1,000 days left.  There’s only so much time, so it’s now about getting down to business and focusing on the things that really matter.”  She sat for her first meeting with reporters as head of the U.S. Small Business Administration recently, including BizJournals and BloombergBusinessweek.

Sworn into office as SBA chief in April, Contreras-Sweet has a résumé well-suited to the job. She ran California’s Department of Business, Transportation, and Housing (an agency that dwarfs the SBA’s budget and number of employees) and  founded Los Angeles-based ProAmerica Bank, which specializes in lending to Hispanic business owners. But that was then and this is now.

On criticism from the House of Representatives that the SBA is operating too many pilot programs: Our thinking about entrepreneurship has to evolve a little bit. We can’t be a stagnant department and say: This is the way we’ve always done it, so we must always do it this way.

On serving small business owners who need smaller loan amounts:
We need to make sure we have an open mind to how we can serve folks who want to create a job for themselves or others. Contreras-Sweet wants to encourage SBA lenders to make more small-dollar loans, because loans of that size are particularly important for Hispanic and African-American business owners.

Loans of under $150,000 are up 15 percent since the SBA eliminated fees on loans of that size last October, she noted.

On the agency’s plan for an online portal—called SBA One—that streamlines application processes: Contreras-Sweet promised lenders that the agency would debut “SBA One” next year, an online portal that will automate every step of SBA lending, including electronic signatures for loan closings. “I describe it as a lot like Turbo Tax for business lending,” she said.

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