Marie Johns, Dep. Administrator of SBA
The White House Business Council and U.S. Small Business Administration host forum to connect entrepreneurs with local and national resources and networks.
On Thursday, March 22, the Obama Administration’s White House Business Council and the U.S. Small Business Administration hosted the Urban Economic Forum (UEF) at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, CA from 8:30am-4:00pm. The forum was the third of a multi-city series created to connect urban entrepreneurs and business owners to local and national resources, networking and discuss ways to enhance business success.
Among many topics discussed at the forum: investing in urban entrepreneurs, recognizing entrepreneurs and business economics stimulated conversations. The forum boasted an impressive lists of notable panelists including Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Chairman and CEO of Magic Johnson Enterprises, James Shelton, Assistant Deputy Secretary, U.S. Department of Education and Clarence Daniels, President and CEO of CMS Hospitality to name just a few.
Marie C. Johns, Deputy Administrator of the Small Business Administration (SBA), was one of those panelists speaking on the importance of urban and minority entrepreneurs during this tense economic climate.
“This is the start of something,” said Johns about the UEF. “We always make that point that this is the beginning of what we want to start at each one of these forums-a stronger, deeper relationship across the board.”
The former president of Verizon Washington, and founder of the Washington DC Technology Council and L&L Consulting, LLC, was nominated by President Obama as Deputy Administrator of SBA on December 17, 2009, and Senate confirmed it unanimously on June 22, 2010. Leading the agency, her focus is to aid small businesses in underserved communities.
“What we do to support small businesses basically falls into one of three categories,” said Johns. ” We talk about the three “C’s”-access to capital, support through federal government contracting and access to the counseling and technical assistance that businesses need in order to be successful.
Johns shared that these urban economic forums were partly created out of a lack of awareness about the SBA in communities throughout the U.S. She found through traveling to various states that knowledge of the SBA was underserved.
“It was stunning to me how many small businesses, particularly in our community, didn’t know about the SBA,” said Johns. “That suggested to me that we really needed to launch a whole new outreach initiative.”
The big businesses definitely took huge hits when the economy hit the recent recession. Many people, untold numbers of people lost jobs and many still remained unemployed. The effect was felt even greater in African American communities where unemployment remains high.
“Even though the economy is getting better, the national average unemployment rate is going down. When we peel back the layers, the unemployment rate in our community is much too high,” said Johns.
She continued, “Particularly for young African Americans-it’s twice the national average.
“One of the most important ways to address the unemployment rate is to make sure we have more businesses starting and growing in our community.
“That’s how we’ll get jobs available for our community.”
This led Johns to start a new initiative, the Council for underserved communities last year in the SBA. This council is designed to help the SBA addressed the needs of small businesses.
“That includes the African American community, the Hispanic community, woman-owned small businesses, veteran-owned small businesses, young entrepreneurs,” said Johns.
Johns believes that small businesses will be the key to fixing the damage left by the economic downturn. The overall emphasis is that UEF will help to stimulate the economy on a community level, which will rejuvenate jobs and economic well being across the board.
“Small businesses cannot be more important,” said Johns. “They’re half the economy.
“Half of the people working today work for a small business. They’re job creators. Two out of every three, new private sector jobs over the last 20 years, have been created by a small business.
“You can’t over state how important small businesses are and particularly in minority communities.”
She is also calling on the faith-based community to get more involved in recharging economic growth. Johns believes the church will be very effective in helping reverse the economic climate.
“Our churches and [other faiths] are such important components, particularly in our community and I’ve felt they always had a role to play in our development.
“I thought it was time the SBA [reached] out and really forged a tight connection with our churches.
“We need a better connection in the faith community,” said Johns. “Rev. Calvin Butts, who is Pastor of the historic Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem is a member of the council.
“[The church] has done tremendous work in terms of economic development in Harlem and many great churches around our country have done the same.”
Johns believes the churches can get messages to the people, which will in turn help small business in the community succeed.
“Preach about it,” said Johns. “Support the small businesses in your congregation, encourage young people to think about starting a small business, connect them to the SBA as soon as they can get the resources that they need.”
As deputy Administrator of the SBA, Johns stands firm in the belief that the economic situation in the Black communities will change. She’s telling people the old story of keep on, keeping on…
“It’s always been the strength of our community, the hope and faith in our community,” said Johns. “It’s time for us to call on that now.
“Go ahead-keep that business mindset. If you have a business idea, you can do it. Just go for it.
“I’m saying look-we’re here, we’ve got resources for you, if you’ve been [here] before, or if you’ve never been, come check us out.”
The first Urban Economic Forum was held last month in New York City and another one in Birmingham, Alabama earlier this month. Future Urban Economic Forums will be held in Columbus, Detroit, Chicago, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Phoenix in the coming months.
The event was streamed live at www.whitehouse.gov/live. For more information on the Small Business Forum, please visit http://www.sba.gov/.