Obama pick to head SBA is Maria Contreras-Sweet

President Barack Obama with Maria Contreras-Sweet, his nominee President Barack Obama with Maria Contreras-Sweet, his nominee for the Small Business Administration cabinet post. (Jan. 15, 2014) Photo Credit: AP

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Putting a finishing touch on his second-term Cabinet, President Barack Obama Wednesday nominated Maria Contreras-Sweet, the founder of a Latino-owned community bank in Los Angeles and a former California Cabinet secretary, to be head of the Small Business Administration.

Obama praised Contreras-Sweet, who immigrated to the United States when she was 5 years old, as a "champion of women-owned and family owned businesses."

Contreras-Sweet, born in Guadalajara, Mexico, has a history of working with small businesses and has been an advocate for Hispanics. As California's secretary of the state's Business, Transportation and Housing Agency from 1999 to 2003, she was the first Latina to serve as a Cabinet secretary in the state and oversaw 40,000 state employees and a $12 billion budget.

In 2006, she founded ProAmérica Bank, a financial institution that aimed to assist small and mid-size businesses. Before that, she was president and co-founder of a private equity firm that provided capital to small California businesses.

"Maria knows how hard it is to get started on a business," Obama said. "The grueling hours, the stress, the occasional self-doubt, although I have not yet seen self-doubt out of Maria."

If confirmed by the Senate, Contreras-Sweet would fill the SBA administrator's position formerly occupied by Karen Mills, who left in August.

Contreras-Sweet would become the second Hispanic in Obama's second-term Cabinet. The other is Labor Secretary Thomas Perez. She would also become the eighth woman in Obama's current Cabinet. Obama's selection had been the subject of intense interest among Hispanic leaders.

Obama said Contreras-Sweet's grandmother, a migrant worker in Mexico, once advised her that if she studied hard she might eventually work in an office as a secretary and make her proud. Obama noted that she ended up being a Cabinet secretary in California.

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