Karen Mills to lead Small Business Administration

Article and photo Ramona du Houx

February 13th, 2009 


Karen Mills and Governor Baldacci in Brunswick, Maine.

President-elect Barack Obama officially named Karen Gordon Mills, a Maine venture capitalist, to lead the U.S. Small Business Administration

“My experiences with the wonderful small businesses in Maine have been a valuable part of the foundation of understanding of small business and entrepreneurship that I hope to bring to this new role,” said Mills from her home in Brunswick.

Mills, a mother of three sons, is a founding partner of the New York-based equity firm Solera Capital. She chairs Governor John Baldacci’s Council on Competitiveness and the Economy. In 2006, she led the successful referendum campaign for a $50 million research and development bond in innovation.

“Small business is at the heart of the American economy. There are over 6 million small businesses in this country, and they create 70 percent of the new jobs every quarter. They could be small businesses on Main Street or new green energy startups, but if these companies grow and prosper, jobs are created and America stays competitive,” said Mills at the Chicago press conference.

As administrator of the SBA, Mills would oversee a federal agency whose mission is to assist and protect the interests of small businesses. It awards grants to help startup businesses, provides training and consultancy for them, and guarantees loans. It also provides direct loans for homeowners and businesses recovering from natural disasters.

In announcing his selection of Mills, President-elect Obama said the nation must strengthen small businesses to strengthen its economy, and he could think of no one better to lead the effort.

“With Karen at the helm, America’s small businesses will have a partner in Washington, helping them create jobs and spur growth in communities across this country,” said Obama. “With a background in the private sector and experience helping Maine’s governor promote growth across the state, I am confident that Karen will lead an SBA that will not only help small business owners realize their dreams, but help our nation rebuild our economy.”

She knows first hand what Maine’s small businesses are facing.

Mills was concerned about how Maine would grow and aligned herself with the SmartGrowth group who enlisted her in their statewide quest to obtain firsthand accounts from the people of Maine about the state. She then helped with the Brookings Report entitled Charting Maine’s Future, which led to her being appointed by Governor Baldacci.

With her business expertise, she successfully explained to the Legislature how cluster growth will help Maine’s economy flourish by building upon the state’s already existing economic strengths, which she helped to identify.

“Karen Mills is a close adviser and friend,” said Governor Baldacci. “As the chairwoman of my Council on Competitiveness and the Economy, she has played an integral role in supporting economic development, investments in innovation, and small-business growth. As a venture capitalist and entrepreneur, Karen combines real world experience with a dedication to public service. She is a national voice in the discussion of U.S. competitiveness, entrepreneurship, and innovation.”

Earlier this year Mills co-wrote a report for the Brookings Institute that outlined the role the federal government could play in developing these economic clusters. The foundation of cluster growth is built upon cooperation between companies that produce similar products so that the product market base is broadened, strengthening the ability of all the participants to engage in the wider global economy.

The report addressed the lack of effort on the federal level to develop such clusters. Maine has worked to enhance cluster development through investment and policies.

Mills also sits on the Governor’s Council for the Redevelopment of the Brunswick Naval Air Station, as well as the board of the Maine Technology Institute’s Maine Technology Asset Fund, and Maine’s chapter of the Nature Conservancy.

“Karen will be a strong voice for small businesses in Maine and around the country. I know that she will do a great job,” said Baldacci.