SBA Administrator brings a personal perspective to challenges – | Region & Cash

Isabella Casillas Guzman learned firsthand what makes a successful small business growing up in California, where her father owned a chain of veterinary practices.

“What I admired most about my father was his relationship with the community. Everyone who walked through that door was very special to him and vice versa,” Guzman said. “The impact he made on his neighborhood was truly remarkable.”

Guzman, who was sworn in as the 27th Administrator of the Small Business Administration on March 17, 2021, spoke to the Columbia Regional Business Report after a stop at Benedict College as part of a bus tour in support of National Small Business Week. Benedict became one of two historically black colleges and universities to open a women’s business center in 2020.

“For me, ever since I’ve worked at his business, it’s driven me to focus on that customer-centric experience,” said Guzman, who represents the country’s more than 35.2 million small business owners. “In our design and execution, I always look through a customer’s lens first. That affects everything else because you look at who that customer is – and it’s a changing face of entrepreneurship – you look at what their needs are and you try to reshape the SBA to better serve them. … My father was able to achieve his American dream, my grandmother before him. I really appreciate the value of (entrepreneurship) and want to be able to bring it to more communities with justice.”

Expanding this equity has become especially important as the country’s small businesses continue to recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The National Federation of Independent Businesses’ Small Business Optimism Index fell to 97.1 in January, down 1.8 points from December, with 22% of business owners citing inflation as their single most important concern. Bottlenecks in the supply chain and the difficulty of hiring enough workers are two other problems that are eroding small business confidence.

A report by technology company Meta, cited in a March 2022 Business Insider article, found that companies led by underrepresented founders are 14% more likely to report lower sales than other companies. The report, which surveyed 5,324 U.S. small business owners and more than 24,000 worldwide, found that 51% of Black-owned businesses had record sales compared to January 2021, versus 36% of all U.S. businesses

Despite those numbers, Guzman said minority-owned and women-owned businesses, possibly out of pandemic necessity, are the backbone of the country’s economic recovery, noting that those businesses have created two-thirds of the 7.4 million jobs created since president Joe Biden took office.

“Not unlike any other time in the last 10 years, women and people of color are the ones starting businesses at high rates,” she said. “We saw 5.4 million people decide to start a business in 2021. That’s 20% more than any other year on record, and so this tour is meant to celebrate all of these new entrepreneurs, these incumbents that have had to turn around and adapt during the pandemic. and make sure we can get them the resources they need to survive. And that’s capital to fund businesses, that’s market access to grow businesses with revenue opportunities at the federal government or online through digital marketplaces, and that’s networks and support.”

In 2021, the SBA managed nearly $416.3 billion in emergency relief for more than 6 million small businesses through initiatives such as the Paycheck Protection Program, COVID-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loans, and loans for hard-hit industries like retail and hospitality.

“As they reopen and regain revenue, they still face headwinds and the President is committed to addressing some of the challenges related to inflationary pressures, global supply chain disruptions, as well as workforce challenges,” Guzman said. “SBA has a role to play. Of course, our small businesses play a big part in expanding our manufacturing capabilities in the United States. That means doing more here in America and strengthening our supply chain and infrastructure.”

There are calls to expand that role by those who support the SBA by becoming involved in direct lending to small business owners in the future, particularly smaller dollar lending that larger banks and even community development financial institutions struggle with their balance sheets can make it work. Noting that loans through pandemic federal assistance have averaged just over $40,000, Guzman said the SBA would welcome the opportunity to “help our lending network meet borrower needs and the federal government’s balance sheet.” use to underwrite these loans and have them on their books. That could also help our lenders.

“We don’t want to replace or compete. We want to be the true lender of last resort and support private financial markets. … It was part of our proposals under Build Back Better and the President’s agenda. While Congress has made no headway on this, we are still investigating and considering the possibility of direct lending from the SBA. We have the authority. We’ve been doing this since 1953, when we first started making disaster loans, and we proved in 2021 with COVID EIDL that we were effective at getting funds into the hands of businesses.”

Guzman also focuses on digital technology, an area of ​​focus during her tenure as director of the Small Business Advocate’s California office. In this role, she founded Get Digital CA, an initiative aimed at increasing technology and e-commerce adoption.

“We know microentrepreneurship thrives where there is high-speed internet,” she said, adding that the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure and investment labor bill signed Nov. 15 is worth more than $60 billion dollars to expand rural broadband access.

Guzman said that as the country continues on a post-pandemic path, the SBA is committed to expanding access to its services through broader distribution networks in multiple languages.

“I believe there are so many opportunities that could be unlocked if we better supported all of our small businesses and innovative startups,” she said. “I think it’s a unique moment in time and history, especially because of the pandemic and the focus on small businesses and the impact they are having.”

Reach Melinda Waldrop at 803-726-7542.

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