President Obama intends to nominate Maria Contreras-Sweet, the founder of a Latino-owned community bank in Los Angeles and a former state Cabinet secretary, to head the Small Business Administration.
Contreras-Sweet, who is highly regarded in the L.A. business community, is expected to be nominated Wednesday afternoon. She would fill the last vacancy in Obama’s Cabinet.
Born in Guadalajara, Mexico, Contreras-Sweet immigrated to Los Angeles when she was 5. She was the first Latina to serve as a Cabinet secretary in California when she was secretary of the Business, Transportation and Housing Agency from 1999 to 2003. In that post, she oversaw 40,000 employees and a $12-billion budget.
Contreras-Sweet’s experience in the private sector includes her founding of ProAmerica Bank, which focuses on serving small and mid-sized businesses. She was also president and co-founder of Fortius Holdings, a private equity firm that provided capital to small California businesses.
“If you look at her remarkable career you can see that she is an excellent candidate for this position,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One, as Obama traveled to North Carolina to promote a new manufacturing innovation hub.
Before word of the planned nomination of Contreras-Sweet, small-business advocates had questioned the president’s commitment to their issues.
Contreras-Sweet’s appointment would give Obama’s second-term Cabinet two Latinos, including Labor Secretary Thomas Perez.
The post at the Small Business Administration has been vacant since August, when Karen Mills accepted a joint post at the Harvard Business School and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.
Contreras-Sweet’s nomination is expected on the same day that the U.S. Department of Treasury is transferring $55 million to California to support small-business lending programs.