The Small Business Agenda: Advocates Fear Legislative Inaction

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Congressional Black Caucus members of the 116th Congress

On Jan. 16, more than 250 top business leaders gathered in Kimmel Hall at New York University for the 4th Annual African-American, Asian-American & Hispanic Roundtable. “We’re taking stock of the emergence of new demographics that are transforming how businesses operate, sell, recruit and grow,” said summit host John Wang, founder and president of the Asian American Business Development Center (AABDC). At the one-day event, titled “Making Impact: Diversity and Inclusion IS a Business Strategy,” busi- ness luminaries including Skip Spriggs, CEO of the Executive Leadership Council, and Macy’s CEO Jeff Gennette, emphasized the importance of diversity in the supply networks of major corporations in growing and developing minority-owned businesses.

Entrepreneurship long has been hailed as a driver of economic prosperity. But with Democrats controlling the U.S. House of Representatives and Republicans the U.S. Senate, small business fears there will be more gridlock in the current Congress than action on issues that pro- mote entrepreneurship and small-business growth. These issues include access to startup and growth capital; reduced health- care costs; a simplified tax code; how to fund infrastructure repair, which would ultimately create contract opportunities; a national standard for Internet privacy cybersecurity; and worker training to address the looming skills gap.

In its response to President Trump’s State of the Union address on Feb. 5, the Black Economic Alliance called on the president and Congress to act, particu- larly where Black-owned businesses are concerned. “The president should work with Congress to ensure that Black workers are adequately trained for the jobs of the future, that the critical infra- structure improvements in broadband and transportation are made, and that Black entrepreneurs have access to financing to grow their businesses and build wealth in our communities,” the Alliance said in an official statement.

Led by a board that includes executives from a range of industries including media, finance, pharmaceutical, nonprofit, and tech, the Alliance uses its collective power and business acumen to advance policies to improve work, wages, and wealth for Black Americans.

Supporting small business growth is high on the agenda of The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). “We must address the economic disparities that have plagued our communities for generations… that is why the CBC supports policies that strengthen protections for workers and expand Black entrepreneurship and business development. Investing in economic development benefits entrepreneurs and workers alike, as well as communities at large,” the CBC says. Its agenda calls for preserving programs that support minority businesses, such as the Community Development Block Grant Program and the Minority Business Development Agency, and expanding access to capital by advancing FinTech initiatives, bolstering mission-driven lending options such as Community Development Financial Institutions, and providing regulatory relief for minority depository institutions.

Both the House and Senate took some action in January. The House passed four bills, now under consideration in the Senate, aimed at keeping the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs up to date; increasing the amount of capital that a bank or federal savings association may invest in one or more small business investment companies (SBICs) to 15 percent from 5 percent; providing crucial research assistance to small business participants in SBIR and STTR programs; and enhancing opportunities for small businesses to compete for federal con- tracting opportunities, ensuring that eligible small businesses are winning sole-source awards. The SBIR and STTR programs promote small business innovation through access to federal agency research, technology, and funding.

A bill passed in the Senate clarifies that the U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy has the authority to examine small business issues in international economies and not just the domestic economy; it also authorizes the office to represent small businesses before foreign governments and international entities in addition to federal entities.