Karen G. Mills was sworn in as the 23rd Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration in April 2009. Last month, at the same time he sought Congressional authority to reorganize and consolidate SBA with the Commerce Department and the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, President Obama elevated Mills' post to the Cabinet level.
Yahoo! Small Business had the opportunity last week to ask Mills to discuss her new post, her plans for 2012, and her take on small business owners' top priorities now.
SmallBiz Vote: What does the elevation of the Small Business Administration to the cabinet level right now mean for small business owners? How will your new seat at the cabinet table impact what you are able to accomplish for small businesses, near-term and long-term?
Karen G. Mills: Small businesses are the economic engine of our economy. They create 2 out of every 3 new jobs. Roughly half of America owns or works for a small business.
The President understands the importance of small businesses and has made them a priority in our economic recovery. He's demonstrated this time and again—first by providing support to small businesses in the Recovery Act, then by passing the first major piece of small business legislation in over a decade with the Small Business Jobs Act, and then again by elevating the SBA to cabinet level.
I'm honored to be part of the President's cabinet and have an official seat at the table. This Administration already puts small business front and center, but I'll to continue advocating for small businesses in Washington and across the country.
SBV: It remains unclear whether the SBA will retain a cabinet seat if, in fact, SBA is merged with the Commerce and Trade Departments. Does this uncertainty heighten the urgency for you to accomplish what you need to in what might be a short time period?
KGM: The President's proposed reorganization is focused on one thing—making it easier for the millions of small businesses in our country to access the federal programs that they need to grow and create jobs. This is the same mission that I embarked on here at the SBA when I first joined. The reorganization will help small businesses navigate the federal government. For example, they will no longer have to go to multiple websites to find one piece of information. Instead, small businesses can spend time working on their businesses rather than looking for information. All of this is a win for small business owners.
SBV: How will you measure your success in the coming months as a Cabinet member? What would a highly successful first year look like to you?
KGM: I measure success this year the same way I measure success every year I've been at the Small Business Administration: Are we getting small business owners the tools they need to start, grow, and succeed? Last year we had a record year of lending through SBA—over $30 billion went into the hands of small business owners throughout the country—and a record year through SBA's Small Business Investment Companies; small businesses received nearly $100 billion through contracts with the federal government; and through SBA's district offices and resource partners we provided counseling and mentoring to 1 million entrepreneurs. This year SBA is looking to build upon this success and continue to provide access and opportunities to small business owners.
SBV: What are you hearing from America's small business owners during this election year? What do you believe will be their top priorities when they head to the polls? And how does your agenda and the SBA 2013 budget proposal reflect those priorities?
KGM: When I started traveling around the country three years ago small businesses would say, "I need an SBA loan to survive." Now, I hear a different story. Today, small business owners are looking for support so they can take that next order, hire a new employee, or buy the building they're renting. Small business owners are looking for the tools to help them grow and create jobs. That's why the President's budget invests in small businesses and allows them to create an economy built to last.
SBV: What is your advice to entrepreneurs who would like their voices better heard in Washington between now and election day?
KGM: We want to hear you! It's small business' voice that helps inform our decisions. SBA recently overhauled our website (www.sba.gov) and now we have several great new features to reach America's entrepreneurs and so they can reach SBA. Check out SBA's Community (www.community.sba.gov). Often small business owners can feel isolated and unsure of where to turn for assistance. The Community provides small businesses the opportunity to discuss issues with other business owners and the SBA.