October 13, 2006

Commentary:

Fostering Entrepreneurship in Hispanic Communities is an American Responsibility

By:  John Kerry

Small businesses are the backbone of the American economy—when our small businesses are succeeding, it’s a good indication that our economy is strong. Which is why we have reason to be excited about this year’s news that Hispanic businesses are starting up at a rate three times the national average.   

Today, there are about 1.6 million Hispanic-owned businesses nationwide creating jobs, contributing over $200 billion to the economy. That is something to celebrate, and it is due to the hard work, energy and excitement of Hispanic entrepreneurs seeking to live the American dream.

Pablo Perez is one of those Hispanic businessmen, having grown his Chula Vista, California-based operation from a 380 square foot space to a 7,000 square foot warehouse where he packs his branded candies and nuts, “Candy El Pecas.” Perez received technical assistance and financial counseling in addition to an SBA Community Express loan, from CDC Small Business Finance and his local bank. This enabled him to buy additional machines to weigh, package and label his product. “CDC was very responsive,” he said.  He is just a few states shy of nationwide distribution of his products, and he is already looking for a new facility to accommodate anticipated growth.

But for every success story, there are countless Hispanic entrepreneurs who have not received the tools needed to achieve that dream. That’s where Washington and the Federal government can help. In order to improve our communities and expand business opportunities, the government needs to invest in key programs that can jump-start entrepreneurship. As Cesar Chavez aptly put it, “you are never strong enough that you don’t need help.”

Small business owners face tough choices every day – from how many employees to hire and whether they can afford health care, to grappling with the tough decision to raise prices because of the high cost of gasoline.

Washington also has choices. We have a deficit that is growing by the minute. We have a war in Iraq. And we have an entire region in the Gulf Coast still awaiting government action after Hurricane Katrina. As these choices are made, Washington cannot forget its responsibility to help minority small business owners succeed. 

That’s why I proposed creating an Office of Minority Small Business Development within the Small Business Administration to give minority entrepreneurs an advocate in Washington, a proposal that was supported by my Senate colleagues on a bipartisan basis. From helping them to secure loans, to navigating the complex contracting arena, to gaining technical assistance and other training, we can and must do more to help foster business growth in all sectors of our society. This office would accomplish these goals and more.

We should also be encouraging entrepreneurial values in our children. That’s why one of my top priorities this year is to enact my Minority Entrepreneurship and Innovation Pilot Program. Through a competitive grant program at Hispanic-Serving Institutions, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and Tribal Colleges, schools will develop a campus-wide entrepreneurial curriculum and establish a Small Business Development Center to forge relationships between local business owners and students. Together we can target students in highly-skilled fields and steer them towards starting a business as a viable career option.

The welfare and well-being of this nation depends largely on its people, and America has the best and the brightest. The debate over our immigration policy continues, but one aspect of that debate is clear: We can and must strike a balance between enforcing our borders and keeping the entrepreneurial spirit and the American dream alive for Hispanics nationwide. Workers who have paid taxes, sent their kids to school and are upstanding residents of their communities deserve a way to earn legalized status in this country.

It is an American responsibility to invest in entrepreneurship, expand opportunities for minorities and enact a common sense immigration policy. Doing so will help small businesses succeed and will keep our economy strong. 

John Kerry (D-Mass.) is the top Democratic Senator on the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship.

Letters to the Editor Return to the Frontpage