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, Kansas. 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.
This article was first published by the Kansas Reflector, a sister publication of Kentucky Lantern in the States Newsroom network.
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