In one of his first official appearances as head of the Small Business Administration, Steven Preston met with African-American business owners in New Orleans on Wednesday, reaffirming his commitment to rebuilding efforts in the area.

Preston, a former lawn-care company executive who was sworn in as the agency's new administrator on July 10, heard from dozens of local entrepreneurs who are receiving aid from the Urban Entrepreneur Partnership, a national coalition of business groups that is providing coaching and counseling to minority-owned businesses dealing with the aftermath of last year's storms.

"I was very pleased to hear first-hand from New Orleans entrepreneurs on how we can maximize the results we seek to achieve," Preston said in a statement issued after the event. "The rebuilding of the Gulf Coast is going to take a collective effort and I am pleased that the SBA is playing a role in this effort."

Along with the SBA, the group's partners include the National Urban League, the Business Roundtable, and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, among others.

"We're working very hard to adapt resources to the UEP so that we can help African-American entrepreneurs take full advantage of rebuilding opportunities in New Orleans and throughout the Gulf Coast," Daryl Williams, the group's national director, said in a statement.

Preston said the group's work in the region was ensuring that the "promise of America reaches all our citizens."

During his nomination hearing on June 21, Preston pledged to foster stronger partnerships with private-sector groups to speed up the recovery process in the Gulf Coast.

He also promised to fix the agency's embattled disaster loan program, which came under fire in the months after Hurricane Katrina for responding to slowly to the needs of small-business owners in region.