National Black Chamber CEO says Obama has work to do

Harry AlfordThe United States is at least a year away from pulling out of a recession, and President Barack Obama is “learning” but relies too heavily on advisers with backgrounds in academia and not enough real-world experience.

That’s the assessment of Harry Alford, 61, the founder and CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce based in Washington, D.C. He spoke to about 300 people Thursday night at a Cen-Tex African American Chamber of Commerce banquet.

Before the meeting, Alford was interviewed about a wide range of topics, including health care reform, the status of small business in America and what makes a good business community.

“Small business is the biggest producer of new jobs in America, creating 70 percent of them,” said Alford, but entrepreneurs would benefit from more guaranteed loans from the Small Business Administration.

Alford blasted the banking system, saying major banks accepted billions in government bailouts and promptly “threw the money in the stock market, where they made a killing.”

“But they’re not lending,” Alford added. “They don’t lend in bad times; they lend in good times.”

Alford said he and his wife, Kay, travel the country visiting communities and hearing about what makes them tick. Those with success stories typically aren’t stifled by good-old-boy systems that put work in the hands of a few, he said.

He blasted his home state of California for that very thing, saying collusion runs rampant there.

“That’s why it has 12 percent of the nation’s population and 35 percent of the welfare load,” Alford said. “Sixty percent of the black population of San Francisco is on welfare. That needs to be addressed.”

Alford said chambers of commerce can help create jobs by urging cities, counties and school districts to spread the wealth when they award contracts and to look for every opportunity to use local companies.

The National Black Chamber of Commerce favors health care reform, he said.

“Health care delivery in the United States is the worst among developed nations of the world,” he said, adding that insurance companies and pharmaceutical firms enjoy near-monopolies that drive up costs.

“Blue Cross/Blue Shield has 80 percent of the health insurance business in Alabama. Who’s going to tell them to lower prices?” Alford said. “Most states have no more than two or three dominant carriers.”

Obama “is learning, and I hope he learns well,” Alford said. “But his advisers are academicians who don’t understand small business. He likes unions, but entrepreneurs create jobs, unions don’t.”

Alford said he does not regret voting for Obama, “but I don’t consider him an FDR or a John Kennedy, not yet. I do pray for him, and his election is evidence of tolerance that impressed the world.”

Copyright (c) 2009, Waco Tribune-Herald, Texas. Source: McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.