One day after Michelle Obama spoke at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, NC, Bowdoin’s own First Lady, Karen Mills, made her debut on the convention stage. Mills addressed the convention in her capacity as a member of the Small Business Association and a cabinet member in the Obama White House.
“When President Obama took office, the economy was in free-fall,” said Mills. “Credit was frozen. Small businesses weren’t thinking about expansion; they were thinking about survival.”
Mills touted the changed atmospheres within small businesses during President Obama’s first term in office.
“Today, small business owners are having very different conversations than they were three-and-a-half years ago. Today, they’re talking about strategies to fill larger orders, blueprints for bigger factories and plans to hire more workers,” she said.
Mills also lauded the Obama administration’s hands-off approach to helping small businesses succeed.
“He understands that Washington doesn’t create jobs; small businesses do,” Mills said. “Government’s role is to put the wind at their backs.”
Mills has extensive experience with small businesses, both personally and professionally.
Her parents, Ellen and Melvin Gordon, own Tootsie Roll Industries. Her job at Solera Capital required Mills to interact regularly with small businesses such as Annie’s Homegrown, an organic food company based in Berkeley, Calif.
In 2007 she was appointed chair of Maine’s Council on Competitiveness and the Economy, according to the Small Business Administration’s profile on Mills.
The SBA was elevated to a cabinet-level agency by President Obama last year.
“Given her background,” said Michael Porter, a professor at Harvard Business School, in an online CNN article, “she knows more about entrepreneurship and business growth than any administrator in recent memory.”
Mills ended her speech on a hopeful note.
“And when the American people re-elect President Obama, he will finish the work that he’s started,” she said. “Across this country, we know when small businesses succeed, America succeeds.”