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SBA chief meets with biz owners

January 24, 2012

CENTRAL FALLS — After officially becoming a member of President Barack Obama’s cabinet just last Friday, SBA Administrator Karen Mills visited Rhode Island Monday for a series of meetings in the Blackstone Valley.
Mills and her host, Rep. David Cicilline started the day at Tolman High School, meeting with local mayors and town administrators from Cicilline’s 1st Congressional district to tell them how her agency works with local cities and towns to strengthen their business community.
North Smithfield Town Administrator Paulette Hamilton said she was “honored” to participate in that forum because, “it was a great opportunity to discuss practical ways to bring small business information to our communities.
She said Mills and Cicilline are committed to implementing a more streamlined approach to helping business people navigate through what is now a very daunting process.
Hamilton said North Smithfield will benefit as a result of sharing ideas and concerns with someone who has the authority and the willingness to make those needed changes."
While at Tolman, Mills and the congressman visited a business management class, which Mills told The Times was “a great opportunity, because we were talking to young people who are getting business training and entrepreneurship training. And when I asked how many of them wanted to start a business there were a dozen who raised their hands, and they all had different ideas. So we could see the next generation of Rhode Island small business people. There were an excellent set of dedicated teachers there.”
Mills, who has been SBA administrator since 2009 – the position was elevated to cabinet level just recently – has Rhode Island connections. Although they now live in Maine, her husband was raised in Rhode Island and her sister-in-law, Nancy Mills, teaches at Pawtucket’s Fallon Elementary School.
Cicilline also took Mills to the Comfort Dental office on Dexter Street. Dentist Carmen Sanchez, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, first opened an office in Providence and get an SBA loan to open her second location in Central Falls.
While in Central Falls, Mills and Cicilline held a roundtable discussion with minority small business owners. Jack DePina, who owns Liga Africa Music in Pawtucket, told the SBA chief about two related problems local retailers face.
He said a lack of access to cash flow, perhaps the most common complaint of small businesses since the current recession began, means that it is hard to keep inventory on his shelves.
Mills discussed how DePina and the other businesspeople how entrepreneurs can get assistance from the SBA and she heard their suggestions on how Washington can better serve small business owners.
She said minority small businesses are the fastest-growing segment of small businesses, adding that the SBA is “three to five times more likely to give a loan to a minority-owned small business or a woman-owned small business than a conventional lender.
“We know the next generation of entrepreneurs and the next hiring is going to come from these small businesses in minority communities and they can compete – they can compete for government contracts, they can do manufacturing and they can be the mainstays on the main streets in their communities.”
Mills sees DePina’s problem of not having inventory on his shelves, and not being able to get it from suppliers as an indicator that “demand is starting to pick back up. We are going to make sure small businesses like that have the access to credit that they need to take advantage of the increasing demand.”
What small businesses need most, Cicilline said, “are customers to buy the goods and services that business produces. This is a recognition that strength in the middle class is not only important for the future of our country, it is also important to the business community. That’s where the demand comes from for their goods and services. We have to fight, I think, in Washington for policies that help small business and at the same time show we are fighting to protect the middle class in this country from being hollowed out by policies that are protecting the millionaires and billionaires.”
“It turns out the job creators are small businesses,” Mills added.
“Small businesses led the recovery in the last recession,” Cicilline said, “and they will lead the recovery from this recession.

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