BY STEPHANIE E. PONDER
Karen Mills leads the
way as the head
of the Small Business
recession has ravaged business in America, and small-business owners have been among the hardest hit. By some estimates, half the jobs lost in the recession came from small companies
that either closed or reduced their workforce.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, signed into law in February
2009, included $730 million for the Small Business Administration (SBA) to assist
small businesses. At a time when credit froze across the board, more than half
of the money was used to help small businesses access much-needed cash.
Getting help to small-business owners is essential to economic recovery.
After all, according to the SBA’s definitions, half of the people who work in the
United States either own or work for a small business. Additionally, 65 percent
of the net new jobs are created by small businesses.
The Connection recently caught up with SBA administrator Karen Mills. Mills,
who was unanimously confirmed and sworn in in April 2009, has a background in
business. She’s the daughter of the president and CEO of Tootsie Roll Industries,
and throughout the 1980s and ’90s she worked with and managed several small
manufacturing business throughout the U.S. She has also worked as a management consultant and served on a handful of boards of directors.
Here she shares her thoughts on how the SBA can help with the country’s
economic recovery—through loan support, counseling and business planning—
and why her agency is more relevant than ever.
Costco Connection | What role do you
think small businesses are going to play in
our country’s economic recovery?
Karen Mills | Small businesses are really the
engines of our American economy. So if we’re
going to come out of this recession, which we
are, and if we’re going to create jobs, it is going
to be through small businesses. The president
has focused on small business and jobs, and
we [the SBA] have been very instrumental in
all of the initiatives and policies that have
come up around small business.
One reason is that access to capital has
been really tough. A year ago, when the credit
markets froze, small-business lending just
ground to a halt. And we were able to step in
with our Recovery Act stimulus provisions
and raise our loan guarantees to 90 percent
and reduce or eliminate most of the fees.
The SBA works through banks, and if you
and your business can get a loan through the
bank, that’s great. If the bank likes you but just
feels a little bit like they need some extra help,