SBA’s Chief Rolls Into Sacramento To Tout Small Business Help

By Lisa Philip The Sacramento Bee.

The head of the U.S. Small Business Administration rolled into town Tuesday morning to spread the word about her agency's resources for small businesses.

"Some people have a rich uncle, and others have Uncle Sam," said SBA Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet, a former state agency head and founder of a Latino-owned community bank in Southern California.

Entrepreneurs without "rich uncles" or collateral often struggle to get business loans from banks, she noted, but everyone should be able to access business capital through the federal SBA.

Among the 15 local business owners who were invited to Tuesday's gathering were a number of women-owned businesses, ranging from a cupcake baker to a specialty cleaning company.

Clarissa Ponce, for instance, quit her job and started Sugar Bake Cupcakes in May 2013. "It was scary," she said. "But the SBA taught me how to start a small business and how to network, network, network."

Loan guarantees are one of the SBA's primary offerings to small businesses, along with educational workshops, government contracting assistance, financial advising and mentoring.

The Tuesday event was hosted by SearchPros Staffing, a woman-owned business in Citrus Heights that bought its building in 2005, using an SBA real estate loan. SearchPros was named California's Small Business of the Year in 2011.

Tina Reynolds, the self-described "chief juggler" of marketing firm Uptown Studios, thanked Contreras-Sweet for the SBA's financial assistance in growing her 13-employee business. "I bought a building with the help of an SBA loan. You're my favorite agency right now," Reynolds said.

Contreras-Sweet, who was joined Tuesday by Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove, also talked up the SBA's Community Advantage Program.

Launched in 2011, the program guarantees loans smaller than $250,000 through a streamlined application process that's geared to helping minority and women-owned small businesses, especially in underserved markets.

A few of the business owners at Tuesday's event had never used SBA loans, but have taken advantage of its advising and educational workshops

Maria Isabel Garcia founded the Science of Cleaning in 1996 and turned to the SBA for advice on how to survive financially during the recent recession. "Everybody had a hard situation," she said. "But the SBA gave advice and allowed me to just keep going, survive ... to go very slow, but steady. I think next year will start to get a lot better."

Garcia, who immigrated from Mexico City to California 17 years ago, credited the SBA with helping minorities. "We have the courage to do something, but it's hard because we don't know how things work here," she said. "The SBA helps us to start something."

An immigrant herself, who came to the U.S. from Mexico at age 5 with her mother and siblings, Contreras-Sweet was named head of the SBA in April by President Barack Obama.

Before her appointment, she founded ProAmerica Bank, a Latino-owned community bank in Los Angeles, and served as secretary of the California Business, Transportation and Housing Agency.

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