Marco Rubio aims to boost small biz, counter China, with SBA reauthorization
July 19, 2019
By Niels Lesniewski
Even if you follow Congress, you might not realize that Sen. Marco Rubio is the chairman of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee.
But the Florida Republican has been active with that part of his portfolio too, this week unveiling a chairman’s mark for what would be the first full reauthorization and overhaul of the Small Business Administration in almost 20 years, and holding a field hearing on the role of small businesses in the Sunshine State’s space industry.
“We view it as an opportunity not just to conduct oversight and our proper role to reauthorize, but also as an opportunity to modernize and sort of adjust the SBA to the 21st century needs of our country and to sharpen it as a tool that serves our national interest,” Rubio said Friday in his first interview about the small business legislation.
Among other provisions, it would seek to improve funding possibilities for research and development and advancement in new technology.
Rubio said that as he sees it, there has not been enough access to “patient capital” for investment in “the new industries, the new ideas that fuel sustainable, long-term growth, and it comes particularly concerning when it is not happening in sectors that are critical to our national security and our national economic security.”
Friday’s field hearing at Cape Canaveral focused on the role of small businesses in supporting the efforts to return humans to the moon and the eventual travel to Mars. In the interview, the senator noted that there should be lots of opportunities for small firms in Florida to serve as NASA contractors and and subcontractors for aerospace giants involved in the process, including Boeing.
Rubio wants to focus on enhancing opportunities for small business to compete for contracts and in support of the aerospace and defense sectors.
“We want to see there to be more contractors, and we want to see more small business engagement in those, in those fields because it creates more competition, but also the higher probabilities of developing unique solutions to the problems... that we’re facing in both of those fields.”
He also wants more emphasis on promoting development that can counteract the ability of Chinese firms to further gain a foothold in the U.S. and undermine domestic manufacturers.
“When a Chinese train-maker, whether it’s for urban mass transit or whatever, bids on a project, they are going to be able to undercut any domestic competitor, not to mention any international competitors, because they don’t have the same profit motives that our companies would,” Rubio said in the interview. “They are prepared to bid on projects that make no financial sense because they want to dominate that industry.”
“We are not competing against private-sector firms. We are competing against companies with the full backing of the Chinese government,” he said.
The SBA also provides a vital lifeline to small businesses ravaged by natural disasters, including hurricanes and other tropical storms that are all-too-common in Florida, and trying to make it easier for business owners to access those funds is another key piece of the draft legislation.
“When you’ve just been damaged or wiped out by storms, you’re already facing enough challenges,” Rubio said. “It’s very difficult to also have to navigate a complicated system or application of bureaucracy to work it through, so we’re trying to simplify and streamline that.”
He said the committee has given him “an opportunity to highlight what makes small business unique, and what makes small businesses unique is not just that they’re owned by individuals rather than by shareholders or a multinational structure, but that small businesses become ingrained in the fabric of a local community.”