Small Business administrator tours Houston

Houston’s reputation for technological innovation can advance productivity and help create jobs, Maria Contreras-Sweet, head of the U.S. Small Business Administration, said Wednesday during a whirlwind trip.

“We’re really excited about what’s taking place here in terms of technology,” Contreras-Sweet said during an interview between appearances.

Contreras-Sweet spent the day meeting business owners and executives and touring the Port of Houston.

At the Houston Technology Center, she emphasized the importance of mom and pops but said companies that scale and create good jobs are especially important.

“This is why we are so excited to see what you’re doing,” she said. “We want to learn from you and really hear from you.”

Companies working with the Houston Technology Center received about $32 million in grants and loans guaranteed by the federal agency between 2008 and 2015. Walter Ulrich, the center’s president and CEO, said that funding was critical to these organizations’ success.

In the Houston area, a record 1,576 SBA loans were issued for a total of $804 million during fiscal year 2015. That’s up from 1,319 loans for a total of $688 million during fiscal year 2014.

Nationwide, the agency’s programs issued about $27.9 billion in 7(a) and 504 loans.

Contreras-Sweet’s trip through Houston included a stop at the Breakfast Klub to meet owner Marcus Davis and to pose for photos in front of the President Barack Obama mural near the intersection of West Alabama and Travis. Davis said he was “honored that I was able to express my passion for entrepreneurship.”

Breakfast Klub’s plan

He told Contreras-Sweet about how SCORE, a nonprofit supported by the Small Business Administration, helped him write a business plan and do other research before opening the Breakfast Klub in 2001.

He also talked to Contreras-Sweet about giving back to the community, which Davis did when he allowed Obama campaigners to use his office and storage building across the street.

Contreras-Sweet also took the opportunity to emphasize aspects of Obama’s Tuesday night State of the Union address, including his call for two years of free community college.

“I think that’s an impressive goal and one that we should support,” she said during a town hall meeting at Houston Community College. “Because to the extent that we can build our talent pool, build our ability to be competitive in the global marketplace against all the countries that are gaining and gaining in education, we need to make sure that we are doing the same.”

Redefining concepts

Contreras-Sweet also noted some of the ways government agencies like hers must adapt to technological changes in the economy. For example, should someone renovating a home to rent on Airbnb get a personal loan or a business loan?

“So we’re redefining the concept of these things,” she said.