The Two-Way
4:20 pm
Wed January 15, 2014

Obama Nominates Maria Contreras-Sweet To Head SBA

Former California official Maria Contreras-Sweet is President Obama's pick to lead the Small Business Administration. She was introduced and her official nomination announced at a White House event Thursday.

Born in Mexico, Contreras-Sweet became the first Latina to serve as a cabinet secretary in California when she led its Business, Transportation and Housing Agency from 1999-2003.

That post led Obama to tell this anecdote:

"Maria, on the way in, told me a wonderful story about how her grandmother, back in Mexico who was a migrant worker, said to her that if she worked hard, studied, stayed in school, that someday she'd be able to work in an office as a secretary and really make her proud. And she ended up being the Secretary of Business Development and Transportation in California. And now she's going to be helping the folks who are following behind her achieve their dreams. That's what America is all about.

"So Maria is fulfilling the vision of her grandma in ways that maybe are not entirely expected," he said.

After leaving her job in the California cabinet, Contreras-Sweet went on to found community lender ProAmerica Bank, and to work in a private equity firm that helps fund small businesses, according to The Los Angeles Times.

If confirmed to the post, Contreras-Sweet would take over from Jeanne Hulit, who has served as the SBA's acting administrator since Karen Mills left the post last year. The job of SBA chief is the last remaining opening in Obama's cabinet – and as the AP reports, she "would become the second Hispanic in Obama's second-term Cabinet. The other is Labor Secretary Thomas Perez. She would also become the eighth woman in Obama's current Cabinet."

At Thursday's event, Obama highlighted the stories of a few small business owners who were in attendance: craft brewers Deb and Dan Carey of Wisconsin's famed New Glarus Brewing Company, which has more than 80 full-time employees, and Casey Patten and Dave Mazza, founders of the D.C.-area sandwich chain Taylor Gourmet. As the president pointed out, there's one close to the White House.

Obama also said that his administration has supported small businesses by lending "more than $130 billion to more than 225,000 small businesses during the course of five years," and by making it easier for small businesses to work with the government's federal contracting system.

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Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block.

President Obama today tapped a California businesswoman to lead the Small Business Administration. He said Maria Contreras-Sweet has experience financing small businesses, first through a private equity firm and later as a founder of ProAmerica Bank.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: She understands the needs of small business owners like herself. She knows how they can lift entire communities and ultimately how they lift our country. So as we work to keep our economy growing, Maria will be charged with looking for more ways to support small businesses.

BLOCK: Contreras-Sweet is a native of Guadalajara, Mexico. If confirmed by the Senate, she would fill the last vacancy in the president's second-term cabinet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.