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Remarks to Muslim- and Arab-American Business Leaders, Dearborn, Michigan


Tuesday, October 6, 2009



Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke
Remarks to Muslim- and Arab-American Business Leaders
Dearborn, Michigan

Thank you, Mayor O'Reilly, for your kind introduction.

It is my privilege to address the Muslim and Arab business communities here in Dearborn.

It is exciting to be able to address such a thriving and ethnically diverse community to discuss how the Commerce Department can partner with you to get our economy growing again.

And the Muslim and Arab-American communities need to have a strong voice in directing the shape of this growth, because you play a significant role in the vibrancy of America's economy.

Gathered here today are owners of businesses large and small, and helping you become more innovative and find access to new markets is a central mandate of the Department of Commerce.

I know we have a lot of small business owners here—and I have a great appreciation for what you do.

I am the child of immigrants who came to America and became small business owners.

My parents owned a small family-run grocery store in Seattle, Washington, where I worked when I was younger—and I saw how much time, effort and dedication it took to build something you can call your own.

Many of you have accomplished that, and I commend you for your work.

I’d like to use this time together to discuss two key issues:

First of all, I want to let you know how this administration and the Department of Commerce in particular can directly help your businesses.

And, second, I want to reach out to you as leaders in your community to assist the Commerce Department’s effort to conduct a comprehensive 2010 Census.

There's no doubt that this has been a rough year for Michigan.

Since March when I was sworn in as Commerce Secretary, I have come to the Wolverine State six times.

And I will continue coming back here, because for America’s economy to be strong we need Michigan’s economy to be firing on all cylinders.

This administration is committed to empowering business people like all of you.

From the day he took office, President Obama has made exceptional efforts to provide immediate help to the small- and medium-size businesses that account for a significant number of new jobs in America.

First, he implemented a Financial Stability Plan to help restore confidence in our financial markets, and encourage the flow of credit to the small business owners and the families who needed it.

Second, he launched an aggressive effort to stabilize the housing market and help millions of Americans stay in their homes.

Finally, he signed into law the third piece of the plan: the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which, among other things, enabled the Small Business Administration to increase loan guarantees from 75 to 90 percent on their biggest loan program and also to waive a variety of borrower fees.

The Recovery Act also provided numerous grants, incentives and contracting opportunities to businesses like yours.

At President Obama’s and Vice President Biden’s request, the Small Business Administration Administrator Karen Mills and I announced a government-wide plan to help ensure that minority-owned and small businesses have greater awareness of federal contracting opportunities, including those under the Recovery Act.

And we are monitoring the performance of all federal agencies and state and local governments receiving Recovery Act funds on their progress in using minority contractors and subcontractors.

I invite all of you to visit the and the Web sites to find out more.

The Commerce department is playing a central role in the president's recovery efforts and we've received funding for a broad range of projects that will help put people back to work and repair the foundation of our economy—

  • everything from money to install broadband lines for underserved communities;
  • to economic development grants for business incubators and business parks;
  • to critical new investments in technologies that will help revolutionize the way we use energy.

Commerce touches ordinary Americans in ways obvious and obscure every day:

There are 12 agencies and bureaus within the department and more than 50,000 employees.

But for all our different duties, the primary purpose of the Department of Commerce can accurately be summed up in one word: Competitiveness.

We exist to help American businesses grow and compete in the global economy so they can hire more people.

We have tools to directly help businesses at every point in the cycle—from the birth of an idea, to the standing up of the company with that idea, to finding markets once that idea has been transformed into a product or service.

If you've got a new invention, or innovation, our Patent Trademark Office will make sure your intellectual property is protected.

If you're involved in a cutting-edge field like nanotechnology or developing solutions to fight climate change, we've got world-class laboratories developing the standards, measurements and basic R&D for products and services that allow new industries to flourish.

If you've got a factory, we have a Manufacturing Extension Partnership with experts who can come onto your shop floor and provide ideas to make your production line more efficient.

If you want to identify new market opportunities, you can depend on the most rigorous and trusted sources of demographic and economic data anywhere in the world from our Census Bureau and our statistical reporting agencies.

And finally, if you want to start selling your products abroad, we have commercial service officers on the ground in 77 countries around the world who will tap their local contacts to find you new customers.

A couple of weeks ago, I announced a new addition to our arsenal of tools: the Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which is itself a startup within government. This office will focus on a broad array of issues including:

  • Encouraging Entrepreneurs through Education, Training, and Mentoring
  • Improving Access to Capital
  • Strengthening Interagency Collaboration and Coordination
  • Providing Data, Research, and Technical Resources for Entrepreneurs, and, finally,
  • Accelerating Technology Commercialization of Federal R&D.

But that’s not all we are doing to help jump-start innovation and job creation.

This morning, in Plymouth, Michigan, I unveiled the opening of the first pilot program for a new office that we are calling CommerceConnect, which is designed to be a one-stop location for all the services that Commerce has to offer to businesses.

Our in-house experts will work with state and local agencies, academia, labor and other key stakeholders to provide a unified, integrated resource to businesses so they can grow and sustain jobs.

In its initial phase, CommerceConnect will work with existing clients of various Commerce Department programs.

By early next year, I expect to announce that this initiative will be widely available to businesses and entrepreneurs across Michigan. And soon, we expect to roll out more CommerceConnects in states across the country.

These offices will be a resource to all business owners. But I also want you to know that this administration is making exceptional efforts to assist minority businesses, including those owned by Arab- and Muslim-Americans.

During President Obama's speech this June in Cairo, he expressed the desire to establish “a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world. . . . based on mutual interest and mutual respect.”

And he declared that the U.S. will host a Summit on Entrepreneurship to “identify how we can deepen ties between business leaders, foundations and social entrepreneurs in the United States and Muslim communities around the world.”

The Department of Commerce, along with other U.S. government departments, is playing a leading role in implementing the Summit.

And we anticipate the Summit will be held in Washington, D.C. over two days, sometime in the first half of 2010.

I hope many of you will be able to join us.

It’s also worth noting that Commerce is leading an interagency effort to hold the U.S.-Iraq Business and Investment Conference on October 20 and 21 in Washington.

It will offer U.S. firms an unprecedented opportunity to create business relationships with Iraqi companies and government officials. We expect a very high level Government of Iraq delegation including twenty ministerial level officials, over 100 Iraqi companies and we are hoping that hundreds of U.S. firms will register.

Before I leave today, I'd like to discuss one final subject that is of critical importance to your communities and to businesses.

The 2010 Census.

Let me just take a moment to introduce Dwight Dean, who is the director of the Detroit Regional Census Center. Dwight. . . .

Please use Dwight as a resource because he is here to help you and other area residents navigate the 2010 Census.

Above all, what every American needs to understand is that the census is about a lot more than arithmetic. It’s about empowerment. The census allows every community in America to get the representation, the federal funding and the recognition they deserve.

The 2010 Census won’t just be a reflection of our country. It will actually shape it profoundly in the years to come.

  • The census will directly determine how more than $400 billion a year in federal funding is allocated to state and local governments for things like education, human services, transportation and public safety.
  • The 2010 Census data will also determine how many representatives a state has in Congress—and will serve as the foundation for drawing up legislative districts.

This year, we’re making participation as easy as possible.

For the first time in history, we will have a short-form only census. Ten questions which should take about 10 minutes to complete, and none of these questions asks about voting, citizenship or immigration status.

People will also be able to request a foreign language form in one of five languages. And we’re providing language assistance guides in 59 languages.

We have launched a massive public information campaign to get every American engaged in the census. But we’re still depending on community leaders like you to help us fight persistent misperceptions.

The fact is that some people in America still fear the census.

Whether it’s immigrants worried about how participation will affect their citizenship status or folks who believe census data can be used for law enforcement purposes—millions of Americans decline to be counted.

Folks in your community should know that individual information is confidential and secure and cannot be shared with any other agency.

That includes law enforcement agencies, the IRS, the FBI, and immigration or welfare officials.

All the Census Bureau is concerned with is counting every single person in the United States as required by the U.S. Constitution.

And the bottom line is that anyone who refuses to participate in the Census is shortchanging their communities funding and political empowerment.

I hope you will all use whatever influence you have to help us get out that message.

Months ago, President Obama said it was his goal to create a more responsible and responsive government. These initiatives I've talked about today embody those ideals.

Getting our economy growing again will require strong action by both the government and the private sector.

Ultimately, you'll succeed or fail on the strength of your ideas and your persistence. The private sector has always been and always will be the source of American prosperity.

But if the Commerce Department and the Obama administration can help make your business a little more efficient, a little more innovative or get you access to a new market—then we'll have accomplished something we can be proud of.

I'm looking forward to working with you in the months and years ahead.

Thank you for having me, and I look forward to your questions.