Opinion: Positive change through small business

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Aikta Marcoulier

When I was appointed the U.S. Small Business Administration’s regional administrator in April 2022, I never imagined the positive impact I could and would have on the thousands of small businesses located in my six-state region. The last seven months have been a whirlwind of activity as I’ve traveled nearly 5,000 miles visiting entrepreneurs and community leaders in Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming.

I am proud to be a first-generation Asian-American with parents who immigrated to this country to pursue more opportunities for success. My dad delivered newspapers, and my mom cut fabric at a local store before completing her medical residency three hours away from her family. It was that dedication and commitment that helped them realize their dreams, become successful physicians and provide for their family. My mom opened and ran a small medical practice and faced the challenges of caring for her patients and simultaneously handling daily business functions. I learned from her experiences, that advocating for policies that promote small business growth will ultimately create the jobs our community needs.

President Joe Biden, and SBA Administrator Isabel Casillas Guzman, have made it clear that my mission as regional administrator is to ensure entrepreneurs from all communities get equal access to the agency’s many financial, business training, mentorship and federal contracting programs.

I know the best way to champion our business community is to work at the grassroots level where I can have the greatest impact. This effort was highlighted in October 2022 when the SBA administrator visited Colorado Springs and met with several minority- and veteran-owned businesses Downtown at COATI and toured the impressive U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum. The administrator was impressed by the diverse and strong small business culture we have developed in the city and across El Paso County.

During my travels across the region, I have had the privilege of meeting with tribal leaders; being a keynote speaker at a Native American Development Corporation conference and a Women’s Business Conference; meeting with several small manufacturers; and participating in Small Business Saturday events in Butte, Montana and here in Colorado Springs, Woodland Park, Old Colorado City and Monument. It’s been said many times — small business is the backbone of our communities. Our economy in the Pikes Peak region would not be recovering from the pandemic as quickly as it has without our small businesses who employ most of our local workforce.

Over the coming months, I plan to work in partnership with our small business community, elected officials and partner organizations to advance my mission of creating equal opportunities for all. My four priorities include opening more doors to SBA’s programs with a focus on increasing access to capital for minority and underserved businesses as stated in the agency’s equity plan. I also aim to reestablish effective relationships with community partners throughout the Rocky Mountain region, make federal contracts more accessible to small firms in all industries, and increase our support for rural communities.

My first priority — access to capital — is critical to all businesses, especially those owned by women, minorities, members of the LGBTQUIA+ community and veterans. SBA’s finance programs are critically important to empowering underserved and minority communities across the state.

My second priority is to grow effective relationships with our local community partners and elected officials to better serve our underserved and minority entrepreneurs. A new tool the agency has is the Community Navigator Pilot Program. Community Navigators is an American Rescue Plan initiative designed to reduce barriers that underrepresented and underserved entrepreneurs often face in accessing the programs they need to recover, grow or start their businesses.

Third, I want to assist entrepreneurs in accessing more federal contracts. The recently passed Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will add $1.2 trillion in new federal investments to communities across the nation. The SBA’s goal is to make sure minority and underserved businesses get their fair share of the federal contracting pie. In addition, the new Veterans Small Business Certification Program will ensure that Veteran Owned Small Businesses and Service-Disabled Veteran Owned Small Businesses have A-to-Z support under the SBA. Finally, I want to ensure we are reaching our rural business communities and providing them with the support they need to be successful.

As the nation moves past the COVID pandemic, small firms continue to need our help navigating the challenges they may face. I’m excited about new programs the SBA is launching in 2023 including MySBA — a one-stop shop for any SBA client including the new Veterans Small Business Certification Program, Rural Ascent programs, cybersecurity and many more. It has been a busy seven months, and small business is what makes my heart tick — my reason for waking up in the morning.

While my work as Regional Administrator reaches six states, my commitment to my region — the Pikes Peak region — is unwavering. My husband and I will continue to live here with our extended family, raise our children in our public school system and support local small businesses. My unwavering support of small business will only continue to grow as I learn about additional resources, national best practices, and the needs of our underserved communities.

I look forward to continuing to serve our community!

Aikta Marcoulier is the SBA’s Region VIII administrator in Denver. She oversees the agency’s programs and services in Colorado, Montana, Utah, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming.

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