Today during a Senate Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee in the U.S. Capitol building, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) joined a Seattle small business owner and other African American business leaders for a roundtable discussion on economic development in the African American business community.
Cantwell invited Ollie Garrett, president of Tabor 100 located in the Seattle area, to speak at the roundtable, entitled "Job Creation and Economic Development in the African-American Community." Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and other U.S. Senators attended the meeting.
Tabor 100 is an organization that advocates on behalf of African American business interests and fosters opportunities for business growth as well as supports scholarships for minority students.
The economic downturn severely impacted the African American community, as evidenced by record-high unemployment which hit a high of 16.7 percent. A fact sheet released this week in observance of Black History Month by the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee stated that the unemployment rate for African American workers fell in January to the lowest level in nearly three years. Although the unemployment rate for African American workers remains significantly higher than it was when the recession began, the decline in January to 13.6 percent is welcome news but signals the need for continued job creation efforts.
"I want to welcome Ollie Garrett to our nation's capital today and thank her for traveling all the way from Seattle to talk about the very important topic of job creation," said Senator Maria Cantwell, member of the Senate Small Business Committee. "Our top priority is growing our economy and expanding opportunities for the nation's job creators to grow and hire. We fought hard to pass into law the Small Business Jobs Act, which is helping to create jobs in communities across America. But there is still more work to be done, and we need to continue to support minority-owned small businesses. We heard a lot of good ideas today and I look forward to taking them back to the Small Business Committee as we continue to work on ways to spur economic growth on Main Street."
"The biggest problem we're seeing within the African American small business community is inability to access capital," said Garrett. "These are tough credit times, and access to capital is a huge issue. We need to expand access to capital for small businesses and especially minority-owned businesses, and we need to support more minority contracting opportunities. And most importantly, we need better accountability in all of these federal programs to guarantee minority-owned small businesses get a fair shake."
Other participants in today's discussion included Robert L. Johnson, founder and chairman of The RLJ Companies; Melvin E. Clark, Jr., chief executive officer of G.W. Peoples Contracting Company; Ralph B. Everett, president of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies; Rev. Dr. Floyd H. Flake, senior pastor of the Greater Allen A.M.E. Cathedral of New York; and Cheryl Snead, chief executive officer of Banneker Industries, among others.
Cantwell, a member of the Senate Small Business and Finance committees, has long championed measures that get businesses hiring and investing again.
* She played a leading role in authoring and championing the Small Business Jobs Act (SBJA), a measure helping small businesses create and preserve hundreds of thousands of jobs through tax incentives and expanded private-sector lending. The SBJA expanded the ability of the Small Business Administration (SBA) to guarantee 504 and 7(a) loans as well as included eight new small business tax cuts to help small businesses make new investments and expand. These new tax cuts include write-offs for new equipment or entrepreneurs' start-up costs, zero capital gains taxes, simplifying the cell phone tax deduction, and 100 percent deduction from self-employment taxes of the cost of health insurance for a small business owner and the owner's family.
* Cantwell was also the leading Senate advocate of a new fund, called the Small Business Lending Fund (SBLF), to encourage small business growth through increased access to lending capital. The SBLF was created as part of the Small Business Jobs Act in response to the seizure of credit markets caused by the Wall Street meltdown that prevented even thriving small businesses from accessing capital. The fund expands small business access to lending capital by making more capital available to community banks across the nation.
* Senator Cantwell also fought to create the State Trade and Export Promotion (STEP) as part of the SBJA. The program helps small businesses sell their products in foreign markets by helping them with marketing or connecting them with new buyers. The STEP program provides $30 million in funding per year for three years to states to help small businesses increase exports by boosting the amount and value of their products going to overseas markets. Washington's $1.6 million grant is the third highest in the nation. This new investment is expected to expand export assistance programs at the departments of Commerce and Agriculture and assist up to $58 million in new export sales at nearly 100 Washington state small businesses.
* Cantwell also fought as part of the Small Business Jobs Act to create the State Small Business Credit Initiative (SSBCI). The SSBCI awards participating states with federal investments for initiatives that leverage private lending to help finance creditworthy small businesses. It encourages states to continue the development of successful small business programs and is open to both new and existing programs.
* Cantwell is also supporting an extension of the New Markets Tax Credits (NMTC). This program was established in 2000 as part of the Community Renewal Tax Relief Act. The goal of the program is to spur revitalization efforts of low-income and impoverished communities across the United States. The program provides tax credit incentives to investors for equity investments in certified Community Development Entities, which invest in low-income communities. The credit expired at the end of 2011 but President Obama has asked for its extension in his fiscal year 2013 budget request.
About the Senate Democratic Steering & Outreach Committee:
The Senate Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee facilitates an ongoing conversation between Senate Democrats and the American public. At the direction of the Chairman, the Committee seeks to inform, engage, and mobilize advocacy groups and constituencies to advance the policies and priorities of the Senate Democratic Caucus. The Committee is dedicated to ensuring that diverse communities have a voice within the Democratic Caucus on key issues facing our nation. The Committee is one of two Democratic Leadership Committees in the Senate. Senator Mark Begich (Alaska) serves as Chairman and Senator Daniel K. Akaka (Hawaii) serves as Vice Chairman of the Committee.
Each year, the Steering and Outreach Committee hosts several meetings with advocates, policy experts, business leaders, elected officials, and community leaders to discuss key priorities and enlist their help in the development of the Democratic agenda in the Senate. These meetings are open forums for discussion between members of communities around the country and members of the Democratic Caucus.