SBA administrator brings personal perspective to challenges.

Isabella Casillas Guzman learned firsthand what makes a successful small business growing up in California, where her father owned a chain of veterinary practices.

"What I admired most about my father was his relationship in the community. Everyone who walked in that door was so special to him and vice versa," Guzman said. "The impact that he made in his neighborhood was truly remarkable."

Guzman, sworn in as the 27th Administrator of the Small Business Administration on March 17, 2021, spoke with the Columbia Regional Business Report after a stop at Benedict College as part of a bus tour supporting National Small Business Week. Benedict became one of two historically Black colleges and universities to launch a Women's Business Center in 2020.

"Focusing always from having worked in his business on that customer-first experience is what drives me," said Guzman, who represents the country's 35.2 million-plus small business owners. "I look through the lens of a customer first at all times in our design and implementation. That informs everything else, because you look at who that client is and it's a changing face of entrepreneurship you look at what their needs are and seek to transform the SBA to better serve them. My dad was able to pursue his American dream, and my grandmother before him. I really appreciate the value of (entrepreneurship) and want to be able to bring it more communities with equity."

Extending that equity has become especially important as the nation's small business continue to recover from repercussions stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. TheNational Federation of Independent Businesses' Small Business Optimism Index decreased in January to 97.1, down 1.8 points from December, with 22% of business owners reporting inflation as their single most important problem. Supply-chain tie-ups and difficulty in hiring enough workers are two other concerns causing small business confidence to shrink.

"We have a strong foundation," Guzman said. "We've had a historic economic recovery with 7.4 million jobs created since (President Biden) took office, as well as the fastest rate of economic growth in four decades."

Guzman called small businesses "giants in our economy," noting that they have created two-thirds of those jobs.

"No different than any other time over the past 10 years, women and people of color are the ones starting businesses at high rates," she said. "We saw 5.4 million people decide to start a business in 2021...

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