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Remarks from U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker at MBDA Stakeholder Summit

Wednesday, February 25, 2015
News Media Contact:
Office of Public Affairs, 202-482-4883

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

Thank you, Alejandra, for the kind introduction and the outstanding job that you, Albert Shen, and the MBDA team are doing for the minority business community and for our country. 

I recognize that assembling this esteemed group of thought leaders, issue experts, business leaders and entrepreneurs was no easy feat. And I want to thank all of you for joining this MBDA Stakeholder Summit. 

Today is about YOU: hearing your ideas, gaining your insights, and developing a plan of action that empowers more minority firms to grow and thrive in the global economy. 

In the past year, our businesses have created over 3 million jobs; unemployment is down; exports are at all-time highs; and GDP is growing at a steady pace. 

However, President Obama’s vision for our economy will remain unfulfilled until our prosperity extends to all businesses across America – especially minority-owned firms. 

The question for us is, how do we make our recovery real for all of our communities and companies – especially minority-owned enterprises? 

Everyone here can agree that we have work to do to close existing disparities in wealth, wages, and income, and to ensure that opportunity reaches all of our people and businesses. 

Organizing a summit of this high caliber should be viewed as a chance to address these challenges, to develop a plan of action that MBDA can execute on, and to set the priorities for the MBE community. 

As we meet this charge, we must acknowledge the reality before MBDA today: this agency faces shrinking budgets, growing demands on its resources, the demand for better data and faster technical assistance, and the need to open up more markets domestically and abroad for minority firms. 

In that context, all of us must be creative and innovative in our actions to strengthen MBDA’s work. We have to prioritize what can actually be done in the next two years. 

We need to work together to ensure that everyone advocating for MBEs – from MBDA to your organizations to your colleagues across the country – is adapting to meet the challenges of the 21st century. 

This convening – and our action plan for MBDA – should build upon the excellent recommendations of our National Minority Business Advisory Council, which includes many leaders in this room.  

Our MBDA team has reviewed all 13 recommendations. Many are timely, and implementation can start right away; others require your collaboration in order to get done; and a few ideas, while necessary, may simply be beyond our reach right now. 

In areas where immediate action is possible, we have begun to make inroads. Let me highlight three examples. 

First, the Council recommended improving the bank lending process. 

To meet that goal, MBDA and the Small Business Administration are working on a “micro-lending seed program” that will provide many of your organizations with the experience needed to enter other SBA loan initiatives. 

At the same time, we are engaging with the Treasury Department to strengthen minority-owned banks and MBE contracting. 

Each of these steps, and more to come, will expand access to much-needed capital for minority firms. 

Second, the Council recommended supporting minority business expansion in high-growth industries. 

To this end, MBDA is working with NIST, SBA, and the Energy Department on a “Lab to Market Initiative.” You will hear more about this effort later this afternoon.  

This program will ensure that more minority-owned enterprises can leverage government R&D and move new technologies to market. 

Keeping MBEs at the forefront of innovation and advanced manufacturing will empower these businesses to grow in size and scale in the industries of tomorrow. 

Third, the Council called on us to identify an entity or institution with better analytical capabilities. 

We need more and better data to inform MBDA’s efforts. And in June, we expect the results of the 2012 Survey of Business Owners (SBO).  

In preparation for the SBO data, by June, MBDA will develop a three-year data and research agenda to improve how we collect information on MBEs and to show us what is needed to better support these enterprises. 

But our work is not stopping here. We know that we need to make the SBO data more timely. 

Earlier this month, the Census Bureau and the Kauffman Foundation announced a new joint effort to modernize and enrich the SBO – to offer us better insights and richer data – on MBEs and all businesses – more frequently. 

Alejandra and her team will continue to put the highest priority, most impactful recommendations into practice. Yet, as I noted earlier, there are some suggestions that may be too hard to tackle. 

For instance, the Council called for the consolidation of minority business programs into a new, independent agency. 

This is the sort of innovative idea you would expect from the private sector, and it certainly fits into President Obama’s broader efforts to reorganize federal agencies. 

However, any effort to restructure government offices requires congressional approval, which is unlikely any time soon. 

That is why we must focus on steps that leverage all of our talent, resources, and reach.  

Today’s agenda covers a lot of ground, but it will ensure that we accomplish our goals, develop clear outcomes, and set out realistic timelines. To that end, MBDA will continue: 

  • To play a central role in federal policies that shape MBE contracting;
  • To develop programs that build technical capacity through closer collaboration with other federal agencies; and
  • To lead initiatives that keep MBEs at the forefront of fields like advanced manufacturing, high-tech, clean energy, and more.

Yet MBDA’s efforts are not enough on their own. They must be supplemented and amplified by the work of the businesses and organizations you represent. 

We need all of you to view this summit as a call to action – as an opportunity to help further shape MBDA’s agenda to empower MBEs.

During every portion of the day, we want you to provide concrete input on every topic on the table: 

We want to know what steps are needed to enable MBEs to deal with changing demographic and economic factors in America. 

We want tangible actions to deal with the changing role of supplier diversity and increased competition for corporate support. 

We need you to use our two-session town hall today to share best practices and identify exactly what you will do in the next 18 months to advance our shared cause of minority business empowerment. 

We urge you to use the final session of the summit – titled “Show Me the Funding” – to learn about financing opportunities from EDA, SBA, NIST, and other federal agencies. 

With your ideas, leadership, and partnership, this gathering must present a clear plan of action that can be achieved and measured at different interval during the next 18 months. 

We want to hear your perspective on the outlook for minority-owned enterprises today and in the years to come. 

We want you to work with our teams at the Commerce Department and MBDA to retool our minority business economic agenda and promote minority entrepreneurship. 

Because, as you know better than anyone, your success is vital to the growth of our economy and the competitiveness of our country. 

Today, America is becoming more diverse. And I firmly believe that our economy and country are stronger when we use 100 percent of our talent. 

You understand this fact better than anyone – because you are on the front lines. 

You are our allies. You know what we need to do to expand opportunity for entrepreneurs and business people of every race and background.     

And we need your leadership, your experience, your expertise, and your collaboration to ensure the United States remains open for all of our country’s businesses. 

Thank you again for taking part in this year’s MBDA Stakeholder Summit, and I wish you all the best for a successful day.