The head of the U.S. Small Business Administration did some shopping Friday in St. Francisville, handed out T-shirts and discussed ways her agency could help businesses by providing access to capital, counseling and helping to line up contracts with the federal government.
It was one of the final stops SBA administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet was making on a tour aimed at promoting Main Street businesses.
“What disappoints me is we all say we support small businesses and say that small businesses are important, but we don’t shop at small businesses,” Contreras-Sweet said over a cup of hot tea at the Birdman Coffee Shop.
That’s why she launched the Delta Region Main Street Road Tour this week, which started in Missouri and went through Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi before finishing in New Orleans Friday afternoon. Along with dropping by Birdman, Contreras-Sweet visited the Magnolia Cafe and Sage Hill Antiques & Gifts.
Contreras-Sweet, who has headed the SBA since April 2014, said at some stops she saw main streets that had more vacancies than actual businesses. That’s a concern.
“We need a Main Street to have a community,” she said. “Where is the parade going to happen?”
It’s no coincidence that the tour went on during the week of Independence Day. After all, Contreras-Sweet said, small downtown businesses support the community and give many people their first jobs.
“This is Americana,” she said. “This is how we preserve American values.”
Spending money at small local businesses helps strengthen a community because the money stays locally. And it has a greater impact because it “churns” more through the local economy.
Contreras-Sweet said she wanted to make clear that she wasn’t beating up on larger companies. After all, they benefit from having strong local business districts with a unique flavor, because they draw shoppers and visitors to an area.
She said small businesses serve as a research and development arm for larger companies because they’re more nimble and flexible. “Larger companies like to buy flexible, smart small businesses,” she said.
Mary Joy Lawrence and Liz Wilcox, sisters who own Sage Hill Antiques, said they were pleased Contreras-Sweet and other SBA officials stopped by their business. They said they hoped the visit and coverage on social media would lead to more attention and sales at the 10-year-old business.
“We appreciate anything they can help us with,” Lawrence said. “We don’t need business loans, but we’re not good with promoting or advertising.”