The current SBA administrator is the best ever — here’s how she can be even better 

Isabel Casillas Guzman getty

I’ve always been skeptical of the Biden administration’s claims of being the primary reason for the explosive growth in startups, small-business ownership and jobs over the past few years. But there’s one thing that cannot be denied: The president’s choice to lead the Small Business Administration (SBA), Isabel Casillas Guzman, has been a great one. 

For starters, the woman goes everywhere. In just the past few weeks she’s visited small businesses in Durham, N.C., Atlanta, Florida and Puerto Rico; in Michigan’s Detroit and Grand Rapids; and in Maui, where she updated local business leaders on the government’s disaster recovery efforts following the island’s 2023 wildfires.  

Prior administrators spent most of their time in Washington. Guzman, who took office in March 2021, has gotten out of the city and gone to where her constituents — small-business owners — are. Her X feed documents an exhausting schedule of business openings, roundtable meetings, panel discussions, plant tours, speeches, ceremonies — even reading books to future entrepreneurs.  

Guzman has also been a tireless advocate for minority and under-served small businesses. Under her leadership, the agency created a new Community Advantage Small Business Lending Company License and Small Business Investment Company accrual license, expanded access to capital for small businesses by modernizing its 7(a) and 504 loan programs and continued the implementation of its Community Navigators Pilot Program. She also makes it a point to visit minority-owned businesses wherever she goes to lend support (sometimes a little too much so, but more on that later). 

For those looking to work with the government, Guzman’s agency recently announced a slate of major improvements to the implementation of its popular 7(j) Management and Technical Assistance program. These changes, launched under a new name, Empower to Grow, now include significant upgrades to the program’s core services, and are designed to deliver on the SBA’s commitment to advance equity in federal procurement. 

For veterans, the SBA just commemorated the one-year anniversary of its acceptance of applications through its Veteran Small Business Certification program, its primary certification vehicle to expand federal contracting opportunities for all Veteran-Owned Small Businesses and Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Businesses. And just last month the agency announced the 200,000th graduate of its Boots to Business program ,which helps turn former military personnel into new entrepreneurs.  

For tech companies and start-ups, Guzman has made progress in her efforts to expand access to private equity and debt capital as a result of regulatory reforms to the SBA’s $42 billion Small Business Investment Company Program. 

These efforts have all been in addition to the agency’s primary purpose, which is to provide financing to both small businesses and individuals in disaster areas and to provide government backing for a number of financing options — such as the 7(a) and 504 loan programs mentioned above — that are administered through a network of approved lenders.  

According to Guzman, in fiscal year 2023, the SBA approved more than 43,100 direct disaster loans for natural disasters such as wildfires, floods, hurricanes and tornadoes, totaling $2.98 billion, and also approved 63,000 loans in the 7(a) and 504 loan programs, providing more than $33 billion to small businesses. The agency also supports a network of organizations — like SCORE and its Small Business Development Centers — that offer services and support for their local small businesses. 

If this reads like a love letter to Guzman, well, it is. As a small-business owner and advocate, I have watched other SBA administrators with little enthusiasm. Maria Contreras-Sweet, who ran the agency under President Obama, was decent. Linda McMahon, Donald Trump’s appointee, seemed to barely show up to the office.  

But Guzman has been different. She’s been working hard and she’s been visible. And that’s what this agency needs: more visibility and more awareness.  

And yet, even with all the efforts and the money spent — the SBA’s budget is over $1 billion — most of the thousands of clients and small-business owners in my community barely know of the agency’s existence or its financing and other support programs. Why is that? I think it’s because the agency sometimes spends too much time on what is not its main audience and, in my opinion, is overly obsessed with underserved and minority-owned firms.  

As mentioned above, I laud Administrator Guzman’s efforts and agree that these business owners do need extra help and deserve government attention. But let’s not forget that more than half (54 percent) of the businesses in this country are owned by people over the age of 50 (4 percent are 70 or older). And let’s also not forget that these businesses are mostly run by white men. They don’t run organic coffee shops or sustainable vertical farming startups. They own dirty, unsexy, boring companies that distribute pipes, manufacture gaskets and coat industrial film.  

These business owners are the economic engine in this economy, and they also have needs. They want access to government contracts. They need more funding assistance in this high-interest environment. They want help with their succession planning, taxes, technology investments and cash flow. These business owners may be mostly white and male, but they employ millions of people and provide livelihoods for their families as well as the families of the customers, partners, vendors and others in their communities who they support. I see a few, but not many, on Administrator Guzman’s X feed.  

Paying more attention to old, white men in Alabama and Oklahoma may not fit the administration’s political narrative right now. But a more concerted outreach to this group could go a long way toward solving the agency’s awareness challenges. 

Gene Marks is founder of The Marks Group, a small-business consulting firm. He frequently appears on CNBC, Fox Business and MSNBC.  

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