Cantwell Statement on Small Business Committee Confirmation

Senate confirms Cantwell as Chair of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee

Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) released the following statement after the Senate confirmed her late Wednesday to serve as Chair of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship. The current Chair, Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA), was chosen to lead the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

Cantwell has been a member of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship since 2001. The Small Business Administration (SBA) reported that 549,391 small businesses were operating in Washington state in 2011. That represents 98.1% of all employers and these businesses provide 53.7% of private sector jobs in the state.  

“Small businesses are the engine of economic growth in America,” Cantwell said. “We need to help small businesses grow jobs through export opportunities, increased access to capital and promoting innovation.

“The Obama administration has set a goal of doubling exports in 5 years. The State of Washington has been a national leader, setting a new record for exports in 2013 along with 15 other states. This Congress we will work to ensure small businesses can gain access to new markets and increase their exports.

“Senator Landrieu has been a tremendous leader of this Committee, and I look forward to continuing the progress we have made.”                        

The changes in committees occurred Tuesday due to the appointment of former Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) as the next U.S. Ambassador to China. With Sen. Baucus’s departure, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) will become Chair of the Finance Committee. In other changes, Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) will become chair of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, which Cantwell had chaired.

“It has been an honor to Chair the Indian Affairs Committee,” Cantwell said. "Senator Tester will be a great leader for Indian Country and I look forward to working with him on the committee.” 

On the Small Business Committee, Cantwell has been a Senate leader in expanding opportunities for small businesses to grow and create jobs. Along with Landrieu, Cantwell played a pivotal role in the Senate passage of the landmark Small Business Jobs Act (SBJA) of 2010, which expanded small businesses’ access to capital.

Leading up to Act’s successful passage, former Treasury Department Counselor Gene Sperling, praised Cantwell’s role in pushing for the legislation, saying that “nobody pushed harder to understand the connection between small banks and small businesses than Maria Cantwell.”

In the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010 Cantwell was the leading advocate for the Small Business Lending Fund, a program to increase private-sector lending to credit-worthy small businesses through community banks. Nationwide, the Small Business Lending Fund has helped institutions increase lending to small businesses by more than 52 percent. According to the Treasury Department 281 community banks and 51 community development loan funds have participated in the program since it began. In Washington state at the end of 2013’s third quarter, the four institutions still participating in the program had increased lending to small businesses by more than $200 million from a pre-Lending Fund baseline.  

“Senator Cantwell knows that small businesses are a main driver of American job growth – creating some 80 percent of new jobs,” said Jack Heath of Washington Trust Bank in Spokane. “We are excited that someone from Washington state will be able to bring a Pacific Northwest perspective to the chair of the Senate Small Business Committee. Senator Cantwell has worked tirelessly and successfully to get small businesses access to the capital they need to expand and create new opportunities. As an active lender in the Small Business Lending Fund, we know how crucial Cantwell was to its creation and how important the fund is to creating jobs and lifting our communities out of the recession. I look forward to continuing to work with Cantwell to ensure these businesses get the support they need to prosper.”

Cantwell also backed programs in the Small Business Jobs Act to ramp up the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) 504 and 7(a) loan guarantee programs by increasing their loan limits from $1.5 million to $5.5 million. The 504 program helps businesses acquire commercial real estate they need to expand and has been used by Washington state business Elysian Brewing Company in Seattle. In July 2011, Cantwell joined Elysian Brewing to announce that the company had created 35 new jobs in its new production facility, thanks to expanded 504 loans.

"Elysian Brewing Company has been the beneficiary of various SBA financing three times over the past few years,” said Joe Bisacca, CEO of Elysian Brewing Company. “Those programs, which Senator Cantwell has been a fierce advocate for, were absolutely critical in our founding, expansions and sustainability. It is funding that is not available through traditional lenders. The most recent SBA 504 loan was for our opening of a 35,000 square foot production facility in South Seattle that generated 50 new good paying jobs in the past 2 years, bringing our total staff to over 200.

“It has also substantially increased the volume of business we do with over 250 vendors,” Bisacca continued. “That additional business creates more jobs and in the end is the formula that really keeps the economy moving forward. Without access to those SBA loans, we would have not been able to begin the journey -- let alone progress as far as we have.  Senator Cantwell has a deep understanding of the importance of the access to this type of lending to encourage entrepreneurship and the creation of jobs.”

Cantwell was also instrumental to the creation of the State Trade and Export Promotion (STEP) program, which was included as part of the SBJA. The STEP program helps small businesses increase exports by boosting the amount and value of their products going to overseas markets. In Washington state the program has assisted more than 500 companies close $136 million in new export sales, supporting more than 2,000 jobs.

“We look forward to continuing to work with Senator Cantwell in her new leadership role,” said Brian Bonlender, Director of the Washington State Department of Commerce. “She’s been a strong advocate for the State Trade and Export Promotion program, which has been a critical tool in our state's efforts to build a culture of exporting and help our small and medium-sized companies find new buyers and markets for their products and services. STEP grants enabled us to help 446 Washington exporters in multiple industry sectors post $136 million in actual sales, with $276 million forecast. These businesses will generate $16.5 million in tax revenue and support 2,230 jobs in our state – an outstanding return on investment.”

Along with STEP, Cantwell has fought for investments that help businesses export to more clients overseas. During 2012 she worked for months to successfully reauthorize the Export-Import Bank until 2014. The Export-Import Bank has supported $66 billion in sales from 172 Washington state exporters over the past five years. Of these 172 exporters, 121 were small businesses. Across the nation, the bank’s financing for smaller exporters has risen more than 70 percent the last three years. More than 85 percent of its transactions are with small businesses. 

Cantwell is also a co-sponsor of S.289, the CREED Act, which was passed unanimously by the Small Business Committee last spring.  The CREED Act would reinstate the popular SBA 504 debt refinance program, which helps small businesses unlock their own equity to create and sustain jobs.  Restarting the 504 re-financing program is one of Cantwell’s priorities for the Committee.  

"Senator Cantwell has been a constant champion for small businesses in Washington and nationally,” said Phil Eng, President Emeritus of Evergreen Business Capital in Seattle. “She knows that small businesses create jobs, and that effective lending tools like the REAL 504 program will help our communities thrive. She has said many times that 504 refinancing saves jobs and we could not agree more.  Evergreen Business Capital is thrilled with Senator Cantwell’s new role as Chair of the Small Business Committee and we look forward to working with the Chair to advance the work of entrepreneurs here at home and elsewhere."