Oh, how I remember when the Small Business Administration was vibrant and active throughout the nation. The staff of the SBA was extremely active and worked out in the grass roots helping new entrepreneurs get started, get funded and succeed. I have asked many people a simple question: “Who is the current administrator of the SBA?” After two weeks, I have yet to hear one person state her/his name. I find that amazing. What has happened to the administration started by President Richard Nixon?
I remember when my wife, Kay, and I founded the National Black Chamber of Commerce. We were immediately immersed in SBA activity locally, regionally, and nationally. Quickly, I was appointed to the White House Conference on Small Business. The Conference assembled here in DC and had multiple visits by both President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore. Many business organizations participated and we all got along smoothly and came out of the conference with a proud platform and motivated. There was supposed to be a White House Conference on Small Business every ten years. But that has not happened.
There used to be many congressional hearings involving small business owners dealing with many issues such as the 8a Development Program, the Alaskan Native Program (ANC) - which was an attack on 8a contractors – the 8a program has not been the same since. Contracts were bundled to where they were so big only billion dollar companies could bid on them. We won that battle but now I see it is coming back under this administration. Is there anyone to fight it from the government side now? Back then the SBA would ask the NBCC for candidates for job vacancies. I gave them Kerry Kirkland’s name for Region 2 Director. He got it!
Our last big battle in concert with the SBA was the Katrina Rebuilding beginning in 2005. After a slow start we got going. The biggest break was when I had a few seconds to speak to President George W. Bush. I told him we were frustrated over the lack of access to contracts for rebuilding after the hurricane. He told me to give him a few weeks and tell my members to go back to those same contracting officers. The contracting officers’ attitudes had totally changed! We did over $3.2 billion in contracting (verified through the help of FEMA). The SBA was with us through these events.
In 2009, the SBA lost its legacy. It had completely changed. Their district directors and other staff members were frustrated with manning levels. The field force was shrinking year by year. I asked a SBA speaker who addressed the Illinois Black Chamber of Commerce, July 2016, about the drastic decrease in the presence as well as performance in lending and contracting. He started to tear up. I encouraged him by predicting changes will come in 2017. To use the term decrease is a great understatement. Contracting and lending to Blacks at the SBA fell through the “floor”. It appears it was deliberate. Imagine, the NBCC’s telephone, email and fax numbers were formally blocked by the SBA. We couldn’t even contact them. Was this America? They would lie about their numbers falling to near zero by saying they did not track them. Finally, the Wall St. Journal did an investigation and the truth, indeed, came out. It was a tragedy. Never in the history of the SBA did their contracting and lending dollar’s retreat so far back. This federally funded agency was declaring “incommunicado” with the largest Black business association in the world. Naturally, they were going to lose at the expense of Black entrepreneurs. Their attitude and arrogance shall be added to their legacy.
I remember the day my sons came to me after trying to get their business certified as a “Small, Disadvantaged Business Enterprise” DBE. The SBA agent told them there is no need to do that because they “probably wouldn’t get any business anyway from the program”. How dismal did it get!
That administration of the SBA is starting to pack up. Get gone!!! It is time for better things to happen. President Elect Donald Trump has named Linda McMahon to become the new Administrator of the SBA. You will soon become quite familiar with her name and background. A self-styled winner and leader. She brings a wide range of expertise and, in fact, has been studying the SBA for a few years. Once again Black entrepreneurs and all other entrepreneurs can get motivated. Bias will not be tolerated!
I remember the days of great “Matchmakers” the SBA would sponsor. They would recruit corporations to come and meet small business contractors, face to face, and then would account for new business that was gained from the event. They even hosted a Matchmaker at one of our annual conferences (it was a huge success). Those were the days.
Cheer up America! There’s a new “sheriff” in town. Let us refer to the past 7 years as the SBA “Dark Days”. Scratch them from your memory. New days are ahead and things are going to improve immensely. They simply cannot get worse.