Before she delivered a keynote luncheon address Tuesday at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, the head of the U.S. Small Business Administration popped in to Marty’s Market in the Strip District.
“It was a customer call,” said Maria Contreras-Sweet, the SBA’s top administrator.
Regina Koetters, owner of the 4-year-old market and cafe that specializes in organic food, is a Naval Reserve officer and Iraq War veteran who exemplifies the type of entrepreneur the SBA tries to support.
“She’s teaching people to eat better and is building a supply chain of [locally sourced] products,” Ms. Contreras-Sweet said. “She has used SBA services and is an example of what we can do for veterans.”
Ms. Contreras-Sweet was in Pittsburgh to address the National Veterans Small Business Engagement — a three-day event aimed at matching veteran-owned businesses with government agencies and private companies that can help them in bidding on federal contracts.
Under legislation passed in 1999, the federal government must aim to award at least 3 percent of all contracts to small businesses owned by service-disabled veterans.
Since then, some states and private companies have also established similar goals, said Chris Hale, chief executive of the National Veteran-Owned Business Association based in Moon.
One in 10 of all small businesses are founded by veterans and about 20 percent of small business employees work for veteran-owned businesses, said Ms. Contreras-Sweet.
If they apply for SBA loans, veterans are eligible for some fee waivers and discounts, she said. The SBA also provides specialized training at military installations on entrepreneurship with a focus on securing capital and contracts.
On Monday, she was at Heinz Field to present the National Veteran Owned Business Association’s “Vetrepreneur of the Year” award to Gordon Logan, founder of the Sport Clips Haircuts franchise. Mr. Logan served in the Air Force in Vietnam and launched SportClips in Texas in 1993.
For Ms. Contreras-Sweet, 59, this week’s trip brought back the years she worked for a division of the former Westinghouse conglomerate and Fortune 500 company based here for years. She was employed in marketing and public affairs in Westinghouse’s beverage division that owned franchise rights to major brands including 7Up and Perrier.
A native of Mexico who came with her family to California at age 5, she later launched her own consulting firm that specialized in Latino marketing. She also served as a state Cabinet official in California, and founded and chaired a private bank in Los Angeles before President Barack Obama tapped her for the SBA post last year.
Joyce Gannon: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1580.
Article originally published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, November 18, 2015.