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Founder of L.A.’s ProAmerica Bank Confirmed as Head of SBA

The granddaughter of a migrant worker and founder of a Los Angeles bank was confirmed by the U.S. Senate Thursday to head the Small Business Administration.

Maria Contreras-Sweet founded ProAmerica Bank in 2006 to cater to small- and mid-sized Latino-owned businesses.

“As founder of ProAmerica Bank, the first Latino-owned business bank in more than 30 years, she knows firsthand what it takes to run and grow a small business,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. “With so many Americans who earn moderate incomes having trouble getting approved for loans, this kind of support is essential to growing job-creating small businesses.”

Prior to opening the bank, Contreras-Sweet was the first Latina to hold a state cabinet position, serving as secretary of the California Business, Transportation and Housing Agency. She oversaw 42,000 employees and a budget of $14 billion during her five years in the position.

Contreras-Sweet also helped found private-equity firm Fortius Holdings, served on the Board of Blue Cross of California and was an equity partner in the 7UP/RC Bottling Co.

Contreras-Sweet, born in Guadalajara, Mexico, moved with her family at age 5 to the Los Angeles area, where her mother worked in an El Monte chicken-packaging plant.

President Barack Obama said Contreras-Sweet will be a “fierce champion” advocating for small businesses.

“As we work to keep our economy growing, Maria will be charged with looking for more ways to support small businesses,” Obama said. “Two years ago I elevated the role of Small Business Administrator to a cabinet-level position to make sure small businesses have a seat at the table they deserve.

“I’m confident that as the newest member of my cabinet, Maria will do an outstanding job … working with me, with America’s small business owners and my entire administration to increase economic growth and expand opportunity for all.”