ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — On Oct. 14, the U.S. Small Business Administration announced its New Mexico district office would be run by a familiar face: John M. Garcia, a New Mexico native and longtime advocate for business and veterans issues.
Before joining the SBA, Garcia worked in Washington, D.C., as the deputy assistant secretary for the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. He is the founder of Garcia & Associates LLC, a consulting company that specializes in issues related to veteran wellness and entrepreneurial development.
A few weeks after the announcement, Garcia sat down with the Journal to talk about his new role and the economic challenges facing the state.
Q: Tell me a bit about your path to this position.
A: After high school, I was drafted into Vietnam. I came home, went back to school (at the now-defunct University of Albuquerque), but at that time being a veteran wasn’t the best thing you could be. I had a college professor who came in one day and said, “If there are any Vietnam vets in here, I want you out.” I needed to work, so I was driving around Central one day and I saw a big sign by (the retail store) White’s saying, “We hire Vietnam vets” — a bold statement for the time. Today it’s patriotic. I walked in with no résumé, and they said I could start Monday. Two years later, I had my own retail store. That all led to me getting heavily involved being a veteran advocate, especially in the business community. I ran the Hispano Chamber of Commerce for about nine years, then was cabinet secretary of Economic Development (under Gov. Bruce King). I’ve always had a passion for small business, and most people don’t realize that of the 28 million small businesses in this country, 3.6 million are veteran-owned.
Q: What are your goals for your current role?
A: A lot of people don’t know what the SBA is or what it has to offer: loans (through partnerships with lenders), counseling, contracting. We help people find the capital they want, and the technical assistance and counseling they need to be successful. And those people are going to hire other people, which makes us one of the most important agencies for the development of New Mexico and our country. I want to raise the bar of awareness for this agency, that’s my first task. I want to get out there and let people know I’m here and what we have to offer. I found that this agency brought in $131 million in loans (in fiscal year 2015) for small businesses through our partners. That’s a lot of money. This year, it’s up by $40 million. That’s an indicator to me that the lenders may be loosening up a bit, and maybe that the small business community is hiring more.
Q: How do you reconcile those numbers with the fact that New Mexico currently has the second-worst unemployment rate in the country?
A: I think it all goes back to the awareness I was talking about before. When I started my own company, I knew the SBA was there, but I thought I didn’t have time. I was in a constant panic mode. We need to teach people to invest in themselves first. That growth in the loans shows a trend in the right direction, but we need to do a better job of connecting our small business owners with the resources of the SBA and our partners. That will help elevate the economy because (small businesses) are such a big part of it.
Q: Do you think there’s a resistance to change here in New Mexico, as it relates to the economy?
A: We like to keep things as they are, or as they were, or as we perceive them to be. Change makes people uncomfortable. Leaders are supposed to be the agents of change, and it’s a matter of creating the vision for people to see what that change could be and articulating that vision. If we understand our mission, then our goals and objectives will start falling into place.
Q: What do you think is the biggest thing holding back small businesses right now?
A: I run a small business, and as a service-disabled vet, 3 percent of federal contracts are mandated to me by law. The biggest thing that bothered me was that I had to pay gross receipts tax. Seven percent, right off the top. Why? What incentive is that? Waive it, at least for the first two or three years, and let that small business owner get on their feet. (New Mexico) rolls the red carpet out for big business, but we roll a towel out for small business.
Q: If you had one thing to say to our readers who are small business owners, or who want to be small business owners, what would it be?
A: Give us the chance to help your dreams become a reality. My staff and I are ready to help you, and if we can’t help you, we have partners that can.