Congress

Marco Rubio aims to boost small biz, counter China, with SBA reauthorization

Florida GOP senator is chairman of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is chairman of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

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.

“Since the 1960s, the Kennedy Space Center has served as the world’s leading human spaceflight launch center,” Rubio said in an opening statement for the hearing. “There is no place more appropriate, or more fitting, to mark the 50th anniversary of humanity’s first steps on the moon than the place from which the Apollo 11 mission launched our brave American astronauts.”

Earlier Friday, Rubio explained the significance to CQ Roll Call.

“When the shuttle program ended, there was deep concern that the community would collapse, and it went through some miserable years, but now it’s growing by leaps and bounds,” Rubio said. “That’s going to create all kind of opportunities for small businesses,”

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.”

Rubio took over the gavel of the Small Business panel at the start of this Congress, after Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, took over the chairmanship of the Foreign Relations Committee. With chairmanships allocated by seniority, Rubio took the position for which he was in line.

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.”

The committee has taken to naming Florida small businesses of the week. On Friday, he cited the example of Rising Tide Car Wash, which was honored with the award in May.

“We have a car wash in Broward County, Fla., where all of the employees are on the autism spectrum, and they have found a way to gainfully employ these adults and they’re very good at what they do,” Rubio said. “It’s been an opportunity too to highlight the importance of small businesses that I think some times we take for granted.”

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