By RAYMUND FLANDEZ
Karen G. Mills has a big job: Get struggling small businesses the help they need to power the U.S. into economic recovery.
Four months into her term, the new Small Business Administration chief says there’s been measurable progress in getting financing and other assistance to the country’s 27 million entrepreneurs. Since the passage of the Recovery Act in February, the SBA has approved $5.7 billion in loans and seen 840 financial lenders renew their participation in the agency’s 7(a) or ARC loan programs. Under Mills, a venture capitalist and Tootsie Roll heiress from Maine, the 56-year-old agency has also implemented new loan programs, such as inventory financing for car and auto dealerships.
Anecdotally, however, many small-business owners say they’re still waiting for their bailout. They say loan applications are still being denied by risk-averse banks. They complain that President Barack Obama’s $787 billion economic-stimulus package isn’t trickling down to Main Street, and the administration’s plan to overhaul health care could place new burdens on their businesses.
We talked to Ms. Mills about the progress of the Recovery plans, health-care reform, and the SBA’s role in serving small businesses. Here are edited excerpts from that conversation.