SBA administrator steps into Eisenhower’s back yard on 70th anniversary of agency’s launch
President from Abilene sought to clear barriers to business innovation and growth
Isabella Casillas Guzman, administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration, and Mary Jean Eisenhower, granddaughter of President Dwight Eisenhower, celebrate the 70th anniversary of the SBA on Tuesday at the Eisenhower library and museum in Abilene. The president signed the SBA law in 1953. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)
ABILENE — Isabella Casillas Guzman stepped back in time Tuesday to mark the U.S. Small Business Administration’s 70th year by visiting Dwight Eisenhower’s hometown, library and museum in honor of a president with the foresight to dedicate an agency to advancing interests of small businesses.
Guzman, the SBA administrator, said the man from an impoverished background who became a World War II five-star general and president of the United States was inspired to improve government investment in business innovation and competition. He believed an infusion of government resources was necessary to keep monopolies in check and instill fairness into an economy befitting the greatest generation, she said.
She said Eisenhower believed a diversified economy was central to national security. He committed to setting aside a portion of federal expenditures for small businesses rather than concentrate contracts with companies capable of dominating the market, she said.
“This is such a proud moment for us because we’re celebrating 70 years of SBA history,” she said. “President Eisenhower signed this agency into existence. Really we’ve had a storied history just like our distinguished President Eisenhower. We’re celebrating that here today and ensuring that we’re committed into the future over the next seven decades to deliver entrepreneurship to more Americans.”
COVID highs, lows
Guzman said instability driven by the COVID-19 pandemic led U.S. small businesses to a juncture where they needed a more level playing field to build an American economy that was “more competitive, more innovative and greener, and more resilient to global shocks that we’ve witnessed recently.”
She said half of U.S. military veterans started a business upon returning to civilian life after World War II. In the past 20 years, she said, only 5% of U.S. veterans did that after serving their country. She said the federal government had to do more for veterans and must drive investments deeper into underserved communities.
“We know that by ensuring equity in federal government procurement — the largest buyer in the world; it buys everything from flowers to ammunition — we’re getting more innovation, more competition and more prosperity for all our communities,” Guzman said.
In an interview, Guzman said the Paycheck Protection Program law signed by President Donald Trump early in the pandemic to keep businesses afloat and payroll flowing to workers was the victim of billions of dollars in fraud. She said SBA estimated extent of fraud in PPP to be around $36 billion. Other estimates placed PPP losses higher.
She said 86% of PPP fraud occurred in the initial nine months of 2020, and the agency had retooled to better prepare for a national emergency.
“What we’re feeling really strongly about is that we are now positioned as an agency to scale and meet the needs of our small businesses in a more strengthened way — leveraging technology, leveraging those tools — to keep the American taxpayer dollars used for the most effective purposes,” the SBA administrator said.
U.S. Sen. Roger Marshall, a Kansas Republican who was heartbroken when told as a fourth-grader that he couldn’t attend the Abilene memorial service for Eisenhower in 1969, said during the program at the presidential library that forming SBA was among many examples of how Eisenhower put federal government resources to good use.
That law made it the policy of the United States government to aid, counsel and protect as far as possible interests of small business operators, Marshall said.
The senator said it was unacceptable growth of minority- and veteran-owned businesses in Kansas had been stagnant for the past decade.
“I own that,” said Marshall, who was elected to the U.S. House in 2016 and to the U.S. Senate in 2020. “That’s our job to work together with the state, with our Congress members, with SBA to improve upon that.”
He said regulations emerging from the administration of President Joe Biden added to cost and time obligations of small businesses. The senator pointed to federal rules obligating business to pay more overtime and forcing community banks to adopt new consumer financial protection rules.
“I know firsthand the impact of the regulatory burden and how it disproportionately impacts small businesses and how over-regulation leads to consolidation of industry,” Marshall said.
The 99 percenters
David Toland, the state’s lieutenant governor and secretary of the Kansas Department of Commerce, said 99% of the state’s companies were classified as small businesses. Owners of those companies employed half of Kansas’ workforce, he said.
“This means,” Toland said, “that without a doubt the Kansas small business owners are the engine that is driving our economy and keeping our communities vibrant and strong.”
U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids, the 3rd District Democrat and a member of the U.S. House’s small business panel, said prosperity of small businesses was key to the country’s strength. She said Congress must continue work to expand business and consumer access to high-speed internet.
“Having access to broadband is something that is so important not just for small businesses, but for everybody in the entire community,” she said.
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