Maria Contreras-Sweet confirmed as SBA chief

President Obama said Contreras-Sweet "understands what it means to start a small business."

WASHINGTON — The Senate confirmed Maria Contreras-Sweet, a former California official who founded a Los Angeles community bank, to head the federal Small Business Administration.

Contreras-Sweet was approved Thursday by voice vote to the Cabinet position, which helps small businesses with loans and other assistance. She takes over for Karen Mills, a former venture capitalist who stepped down as the agency's administrator last year.

President Obama said Contreras-Sweet "understands what it means to start a small business" and has "a proven track record of helping other small businesses succeed."

"As we work to keep our economy growing, Maria will be charged with looking for more ways to support small businesses," said Obama, who two years ago elevated the job to Cabinet level to emphasize the sector's importance to the economy.

Contreras-Sweet founded ProAmerica Bank in 2006. It focuses on serving small and mid-size Latino businesses in Los Angeles. She also was co-founder and president of Fortius Holdings, a private equity firm that funded small California businesses.

Born in Guadalajara, Mexico, Contreras-Sweet immigrated to Los Angeles when she was 5 years old.

In 1999, she became the state's first Latina Cabinet official, serving as secretary of the Business, Transportation and Housing Agency until 2003.

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), chairwoman of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, called Contreras-Sweet "a leader with her finger on the pulse of small business lending."

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