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Tuesday April 9, 2002

Spotlight on Conrad Lee

Chan Cho

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has named Conrad Lee administrator of Region 10, which encompasses programs and services in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Alaska.

To date, seven out of the nation's ten regional administrators have been appointed; Lee is the only Asian American.

"I hope to provide more understanding to the needs of Asian-American businesses, and what the SBA can provide," Lee said. "I have the insight and perspective to make our outreach to Asian Americans have resonance."

Lee said he hopes being in this highly visible role will attract more Asian-American business owners to seek out the SBA's services.

Born in China, Lee came to the United States to earn an engineering degree from the University of Michigan in 1962. From 1962 to 1978, Lee worked for Boeing Co. in various capacities, including engineer, marketing sales manager and energy analyst.

"Small business owners in the Northwest have an outstanding advocate in Mr. Lee, an Asian-American with experience helping businesses in the Pacific Rim," said SBA Administrator Hector V. Barreto.

Lee points out that all businesses pretty much have common needs: money.

What separates Asian-American and other recently arrived immigrant business owners are the language and cultural barriers they face, Lee said. Many recent Asian immigrants do not even think to seek the SBA's help.

He used the example of Korean store owners, who are known for setting up their own private credit pools to jumpstart businesses.

"Koreans don't like to borrow money, but in American business, you need to learn how to leverage and borrow," Lee said. "Otherwise, you'll always remain small business."

From 1979 to 1996 Lee helped develop a solid-waste plan for the City of Seattle Solid Waste Utility. His experience with local government prompted him to run for the Bellevue (Wash.) City Council, where he is currently beginning a third term.

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