SBA Chief Maria Contreras-Sweet On Micro-Lending And The Minimum Wage

By Tiffany Hsu
Los Angeles Times.

Maria Contreras-Sweet, who assumed the reins as head of the U.S. Small Business Administration five months ago, stopped in downtown Los Angeles this week during a West Coast tour to discuss micro-lending, immigrant entrepreneurship and access to capital.

Addressing a packed luncheon crowd at City Club Los Angeles, part of the Town Hall Los Angeles speaker series, she expounded on her efforts to streamline the lending process and promote job creation.

Contreras-Sweet immigrated to L.A. from Guadalajara, Mexico, with her mother and five siblings when she was 5 years old.

She became a member of President Obama’s cabinet after helping found commercial bank ProAmerica, venture capital firm Fortius Holdings, the California Endowment health foundation and other organizations.

She was the first Latina in California to hold a state cabinet position, overseeing Caltrans, the California Highway Patrol and the Department of Motor Vehicles as the secretary of business, transportation and housing.

During her visit, she also sat down to chat with The Times. Here is an edited version of that conversation:

Question:Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti recently announced an ambitious proposal to raise the minimum wage in the city to $13.25 by 2017. How will that play out for small businesses here?

A: The small-business community employs half of the private workforce and creates 2 out of every 3 net new jobs. So small businesses are critical to our comeback. I’m pleased to report that we’ve recovered all of the pre-recessionary jobs that were lost, and again, I believe that has largely been the small-business community.

So many small businesses employ family members. Or, if they’re not family, they treat them like family in small businesses. And we know that we all want our family to have a livable wage. And Henry Ford used to say, we have to have a strong wage for our employees so they can afford to buy the products that we’re producing.

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