National Manufacturing Day with SBA Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet

Maria Contreras-Sweet's speech:

Good morning, everyone. I’m delighted to be here in Milford at First State Manufacturing – one of the SBA’s proudest success stories – to celebrate National Manufacturing Day. Today’s gathering is one of 1,500 events happening across America to shine the spotlight on 21st century manufacturing. To put that into perspective: It’s double the number of events held on National Manufacturing Day last year.

These are times of growth and renewal for our nation’s economy and for our manufacturing sector, in particular. America has added more than 10 million jobs over 55 straight months of job growth – the longest streak on record.  The national unemployment rate has fallen to 5.9 percent, from a high of 10 percent back in October of 2009. And manufacturing has led that comeback story.

America always has been – and always will be – a nation of makers, and in 2014, “Made in the USA” is making waves. For the first time in more than a decade, both manufacturing output and employment are growing.  The United States has added more than 700,000 manufacturing jobs since February 2010, the fastest growth rate in nearly two decades.  Today, this industry and its network of supply chains support more than more than 16 million American jobs.

These aren’t just any jobs; they pay workers an average of 17 percent more than similar positions in other sectors. The average salary for manufacturing workers exceeds $77,000. In the 21st century, we’re talking about highly skilled jobs that require you to use your minds and your hands and some pretty sophisticated machinery, too.

Nationally, we’re creating more manufacturing jobs than we have skilled workers to fill right now. That’s why our partners like Delaware State University are so important. Their professors are teaching those critical STEM skills that will create a talent pipeline for these well-paying careers.

At the SBA, we’re committed to making sure small manufacturers have the tools and resources to grow. We’re spotlighting Milford today, because few entrepreneurs in America have used the full suite of SBA services more effectively than Eli and Sher Valenzuela.

First Manufacturing began in the Valenzuelas’ garage with an old sewing machine Eli called “Betsy.” It reminds me of America’s most famous Betsy – a seamstress named Betsy Ross credited with stitching together the Stars and Stripes. It’s fitting, because Eli is a patriot and a veteran of the U.S. Army. Later, while in the Civil Service at Dover Air Force Base, he was trained to upholster the C-5 Galaxy, one of the largest aircraft in the world. Eventually, Eli came to realized he could do the job better and more cost-effectively.

So he approached our SBA district office about applying his military skill set to his dream of opening his own business. We’re so glad he did. Today, First Manufacturing is the poster child for what SBA can do to support America’s small manufacturers.

At the SBA, we offer what we call the “three Cs and a D.” The first C is capital; we support loans on reasonable terms to support small businesses. The 66,000-square foot facility we’re standing in right now was made possible by loans under our 504 program, which helps entrepreneurs buy their own building. I’m looking forward to the full tour in just a few minutes.

The second C is counseling; we provide free advice to help small firms start up and scale up. First Manufacturing received assistance from SCORE executive mentors and their local Small Business Development Center. Expert advisers helped them write their business plan, and then offered ongoing consultation as the business expanded beyond its owners’ wildest dreams.

The third C is contracts; we help small firms qualify for government contracts, corporate contracts, and international export contracts. First Manufacturing joined the SBA’s 8(a) program that certifies companies to compete for federal awards. The firm has received multiple defense contracts to upholster military aircraft. They’ve received corporate contracts from companies like Chili’s to develop a trademarked seat cushion that’s extremely comfortable and environmentally “green.” And they’ve received export contracts from the Israeli military to help make the bulletproof vests that keep our ally’s soldiers safe.

Finally, the “D” stands for disaster assistance. The tragedy of 9/11 brought a downturn in business that threatened First Manufacturing’s existence.  With an SBA Disaster loan, the company was able to maintain their business and employees until revenues returned.

From humble beginnings in a garage with Betsy, First Manufacturing today has grown into multi-million dollar firm employing 80 technicians. Today, we’re proud to be with them on National Manufacturing Day to celebrate their success. On behalf of President Obama and everyone at the SBA, congratulations. We can’t wait to see what the future holds, and the SBA stands ready to support you in every way. Happy Manufacturing Day, and God bless the United States.

This speech can be found here.