In 2006, she founded ProAmerica Bank, a financial institution that aimed to assist small and mid-size businesses. Before that, she was president and co-founder of 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.
If confirmed by the Senate, Contreras-Sweet would fill the last vacant Obama Cabinet slot, filling the SBA administrator's position formerly occupied by Karen Mills who left in August.
Contreras-Sweet would become the second Hispanic in Obama's second term Cabinet. The other is Labor Secretary Thomas Perez. She would also become the eighth woman in Obama's current Cabinet. Obama's selection had been the subject of intense interest among Hispanic leaders who wanted to ensure they had a high-profile presence in the administration.
Her pick comes as some small business advocates have questioned the Obama administration's commitment to that broad segment of the private sector.
"Hopefully, upon confirmation, she will reach out to small business organizations and the entrepreneurs themselves to listen to their ideas and concerns," said Karen Kerrigan, president and CEO of the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council. "For the past year or more, the SBA has gone dark in terms of outreach."
Rep. Sam Graves, the Republican chairman of the House Small Business Committee, said the time it took Obama to nominate a successor to Mills "showed us that small businesses really aren't valued much by this administration."
Associated Press writer Joyce Rosenberg in New York contributed to this article.
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