The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has a new head: Karen Mills was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on April 2, 2009.
She made this important statement about her priorities during her confirmation hearing:
Finally, we must – and I will – act as an advocate for small business across the administration. As Chair Landrieu and Ranking Member Snowe have suggested, I will coordinate with other Agencies, including Commerce, Labor and Energy, whose programs also affect small businesses.
This is exactly the kind of proactive advocacy small businesses need.
When the SBA is mentioned, usually it is in connection with SBA loans. However, SBA loans touch a tiny percentage of businesses. In 2006 SBA loans accounted for just 4% of all small business credit volume, according to the Washington Post. SBA loans simply are not very relevant to the majority of small businesses — those small businesses that everyone is so fond of saying are “the backbone of the U.S. economy.”
Then after Hurricane Katrina, a lot of the emphasis of the SBA was on disaster recovery assistance. That too was laudable. When you have a natural disaster, helping those in need is the right thing to do. But again, the impact on the broader small business base was limited.
Karen Mills has a great opportunity here to bring to the SBA a more proactive, out-in-front leadership style that touches millions of small businesses, not just tens of thousands.
Some suggested priorities for an SBA Chief would be to:
- help simplify government regulations and reduce growth-stifling bureaucracy,
- give positive input to the IRS to help simplify tax issues for small businesses and work to be heard in Congress to minimize taxes so that businesses can instead hire and make capital purchases,
- make government contracting for small businesses more than name-only,
- invest further in key self-help resources for small businesspeople, such as increased support for Small Business Development Centers and excellent Web-based resources like Business.gov; and
- work to make healthcare more affordable for small business owners and employees — the most important priority of all.
These are issues that touch millions of small business owners and their employees each day.
The choice of Karen Mills for this role was puzzling, given her background as a venture capitalist. But if she focuses on being a proactive change agent, and views the world through the small business owner’s eyes rather than through a VC’s eyes, then she can do some real good for small businesses. Then she will be more relevant to small businesses than some of her predecessors. I look forward to Karen Mills’ leadership of the SBA.