Tuesday, September 11, 2012

SBA chief visits Sacramento entrepreneur's operation - Sacramento Bee

Call it a woman-to-woman trade mission. Karen Mills, head of the U.S. Small Business Administration, stopped in Sacramento Tuesday to tour McWong International Inc., which recently expanded into new Natomas headquarters, thanks to a $2.8 million SBA loan.

Her host: Margaret Wong, president of McWong International, a longtime U.S.-China exporter specializing in energy-efficient lighting systems, who's been touted by presidents, governors and mayors alike for her entrepreneurial efforts.

Standing next to a warehouse table of LED sensors and lighting components in McWong's 50,000-square-foot building, Mills lauded Wong as a "serial entrepreneur," who's grown her manufacturing and export business with the help of three SBA government-backed loans over the last 10 years. The company also develops waste-water treatment systems designed for Chinese cities.

Although SBA loans were Topic A, both women took the occasion to tout "insourcing," the return of jobs - particularly manufacturing - back to the United States from foreign countries. "The notion that manufacturing is dead in in this country is false," said Mills, whose office said the U.S. manufacturing sector added more than 400,000 jobs in the last two years.

Wong said her company is starting to bring some of its Chinese-based assembly work back to this country. For years, she and her Chinese-fluent staff have traveled overseas, where they employ several hundred Chinese assembly workers to put together energy-efficient lighting systems and components.

But China's burgeoning wages, currency valuations, shipping costs and other factors have made "insourcing" start to make economic sense.

"The timing is perfect for us," said Wong. "China's costs are rising, U.S. costs are lowering." Currently, her company is exploring a contract with PRIDE Industries that would use its disabled workforce in Roseville to assemble a number of lighting products that are currently manufactured overseas in China. "The comparisons are very encouraging ... we are moving forward to expand our assembly and manufacturing in Sacramento," Wong said.

Wong's SBA loan is one of three she's tapped in the last 10 years to expand her 25-person company. In the Sacramento region, SBA loans topped $226 million as of August 31 this year, which is still below their prerecession high of $407 million in 2007. Nevertheless, Mills said the lending environment is improving and the SBA is "pleased to see the momentum."

"Our job is to put the wind at your back," said Mills, whose Northern California tour included a Walnut Creek company that installs roof mounts for solar systems.

McWong's headquarters, purchased last December, consolidated the firm's former offices and a warehouse facility in West Sacramento and Woodland.

Mills' visit was partly to pump up the Obama administration's efforts to help small businesses. She touted the SBA's efforts to "streamline and simplify" SBA paperwork by deleting 100 pages of loan requirements. She also cited the administration's efforts to get a six-year extension of an SBA "innovative research" program that provides $2.5 billion for companies like McWong to apply for research funding.

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