Today, we observe the 50th annual National Small Business Week, a salute to the innovators and entrepreneurs that make our nation great. In large cities, small towns and everywhere in between, small business owners serve as the backbone of our economy. The economy is showing promising signs of recovery. To sustain that momentum, we are going to need further growth in the small business sector. Running a small business is never easy. Often, entrepreneurs risk personal income to get their enterprise off the ground. Entrepreneurship means going against the grain, taking a chance and building something new.
When entrepreneurs do well, our country, as a whole, prospers. There have been some signs of encouragement in the small business sector, but it is also clear we have a long way to go. In the last year small companies produced 700,000 new jobs, accounting for nearly 40 percent of all employment gains. These firms added 58,000 jobs in May, up from 42,000 in April.
The credit market for small companies seeking capital has improved significantly since the financial crisis -- with May loan approvals at large banks up 7 percent, compared to the same period in 2012. Still, many firms are being turned away, unable to secure the credit they need. To help address gaps in the credit market, my Democratic colleagues on the committee and I authored the Strengthening Entrepreneurs' Economic Development Act. This measure will offer small businesses another option for capital through a direct lending program at SBA. By channeling additional capital to small firms, we can further bolster their job creating efforts.
Ensuring more small and disadvantaged businesses win their share of federal contracts is another important way to spur job growth. I've prepared legislation creating a sole-source set aside program for female entrepreneurs -- as already exists for other disadvantaged companies. By helping more women-owned firms secure federal projects, we can create economic opportunity for women, while broadening the pool of companies that government can tap when looking to purchase quality, affordable goods and services.
I look forward to hearing our witnesses' views on proposals like these -- and other ideas for boosting the small business sector. We have before us today companies engaged in everything from next generation data systems to jet propulsion to artists' paints. Their diversity of experiences can provide important insight on how best to help small companies succeed.
As Americans look forward to a stronger, brighter future, they are increasingly looking to small firms for answers -- women and men like all of you -- and so we greatly appreciate you all taking time to be here.
With that, I thank the witnesses for their testimony and yield back.