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Speeches & Op-Eds

National Small Business Week Keynote Remarks (courtesy of the White House)

Speech Date: 
Friday, May 20, 2011
Speech Location: 
Washington, DC
As Prepared For: 
Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to President Obama

As Prepared For Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to President Obama

Good afternoon. First, I’d like to thank Karen for that lovely introduction. Over the past two years, I’ve had the chance to work with Karen on a wide range of initiatives pertaining to small business. She is truly one of the Obama Administration’s shining stars. She knows what it’s like to run a small business, and she uses that experience every day on behalf of entrepreneurs across our country.

And I’d also like to congratulate all the winners of the 2011 Small Business Person of the Year Awards.

You represent the states and territories of our country, and the full breadth of the small business experience in the United States. Everything from baking to business consulting, from marine observation to medical-equipment rental. [While she couldn’t be here today, the winner from my home state of Illinois had the idea of adding bacon to a chocolate bar – and I think that is certainly worth celebrating, and trying.]

Some of your businesses are the kind of “Main Street” storefronts that help define your communities, and others are growing rapidly in incubators and office parks. Some of you took over the family business, and others started from square one. No matter what industry you’re in, and what business model you pursue, you’re all here because you contribute so much to our country. Let’s give our award winners a big round of applause.

I’d also like to recognize all of the family and friends of award winners who made the trip to D.C. I know they’re incredibly proud. For we know that their support, and sacrifices, helped make this moment possible. I think they deserve a round of applause as well.

And of course, it’s not only small business owners who are here today. We’re joined by representatives from the entire ecosystem that supports small businesses … from investment companies and lenders, to non-profits and government, to corporations like Sam’s Club, which support small businesses in a wide variety of ways.

In addition to my congratulations, I bring greetings from President Obama. As the President often says, small businesses are “the backbone of our economy and the cornerstones of America’s promise."

I’ve traveled with the President around the country, and I know that he has been inspired, over and over again, by the determination, creativity, and pride, of our small business owners. On Monday, he issued a presidential proclamation to acknowledge Small Business Week. In that proclamation, he declared that “we honor and celebrate the individuals whose inspiration and efforts keep America strong. “

That’s the purpose of this afternoon: to honor and celebrate all of you.

So this is a fitting end to Small Business Week. But in America, every week should be small business week. After all, small businesses and entrepreneurs employ half of America’s workers, and create two out of every three new jobs. America’s largest, most iconic companies – from McDonald’s to Microsoft, from Ford to Facebook – of course, began as small businesses.

As our economy recovers, there is no more powerful engine for creating jobs than small businesses. Our optimism that America will Win the Future is based on our confidence in you.

And your contributions to our communities go beyond the important jobs you create. You provide much-needed goods and services, and many of you give life to that old phrase, “Doing well by doing good.” Your success stories set powerful examples for those around you. I’d like to highlight just a couple of those stories today.

In New Mexico, more than 15 years ago, Janice Lucero had a simple idea: reduce the wait time at the Motor Vehicle Department. She founded a company to process driver’s licenses, and she started with just one location, inside a grocery store. Today, MVD Express is a $5 million business, with 110 employees, eight locations, and 22,000 customers a month.

As the proud chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls, I’m overjoyed to see MVD Express, along with so many other women-owned businesses, represented here today. I know that you probably didn’t think of yourselves as role models when you first set up your businesses … but that’s exactly what you are, to so many women and girls around the country.

Many of your companies are also leading the way in becoming exporters to other countries. For example, in Indiana, Rick McKeel has been selling pancake and waffle flower to the food-service industry for years. In the last decade, Rick restructured the company’s business plan, and increased sales from $12 million to $34 million annually. Today, Rick’s Golden Malted products are sold in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and 16 foreign countries. Helping small businesses increase exports is one of President Obama’s top priorities, and companies like Rick’s demonstrate why.

Finally, I’d like to highlight Vanessa and Mark Kelly. A few years ago, they developed a cable that helps protect Humvees from Improvised Explosive Devices in Iraq and Afghanistan. Today, they design cables for a wide variety of military vehicles. They employ almost 230 people in upstate New York, and their products ensure the safety of our men and women in uniform, around the world.

I wish I could highlight every single one of your businesses, for you certainly all deserve our praise. But if I did, we’d be here through dinner, so instead, I’ll just say this: Each of you here today represents the spirit of innovation that has made our country great.

While government support will never be a replacement for hard work and ingenuity, the Obama administration is fully committed to being a powerful partner to small businesses – just as we have worked with many of you, to help your businesses succeed. We understand that small businesses have unique needs, and we are working to address those needs each day.

For example …

  • The President launched Startup America, an initiative that improves access to capital, helps new business owners find mentors, and reduces barriers to growth. And he recruited Steve Case, one of the co-founders of AOL, to lead this effort.
  • He also is encouraging innovation by investing in education and infrastructure. Today’s students are tomorrow’s job applicants and entrepreneurs – we want to make sure they’re prepared for the jobs of the future. And whether its bridges or broadband, we want to make sure you have everything you need to move goods, services, and information quickly and cheaply.
  • The National Export Initiative, which President Obama announced in 2009, has set a goal of doubling exports in five years. In order to achieve that goal, we will give small businesses the tools they need to find foreign markets. Today, even the small businesses that do export goods and services usually send them to only one country – generally Canada or Mexico. The National Export Initiative will help those businesses take what they’ve learned by exporting to one country, and apply that knowledge toward exporting to another country, and then another, and so on.

On Monday, the Obama Administration released “The Small Business Agenda,” a report outlining the investments that the Administration has made to help spur innovation and growth.

These investments fall into seven categories: tax relief, including 17 small business tax cuts the President has signed into law … more access to capital, through programs such as the Recovery Act and the Small Business Jobs Act … more federal contracting opportunities … more exporting support and opportunities … more counseling and training … more support for “high-growth” small businesses … and more small business protection.

The Administration identified these priorities based on the feedback we’ve heard from small business owners around the country. And I encourage you to go to Whitehouse.gov, where you can find the full report, and learn the details of each of our investments.

We’re at a unique moment in American history: We are just beginning to emerge from the worst recession since the Great Depression. From day one of his administration, President Obama has been focused on jobs: At first, slowing down the rate of job losses, and now, increasing the rate of job growth.

While we still have a long way to go, we have new reasons to be optimistic. In economic terms, our recovery is picking up steam: real GDP has grown for seven consecutive quarters.

This growth is accompanied by positive signs in the labor market. Last month, the private sector created 268,000 new jobs – the largest number in five years. The U.S. economy has added over 2 million private sector jobs in the past 14 months, and over 750,000 in just the last three months alone. Since last November, unemployment has fallen nearly a full percentage point.

However, we all know that there is much work to do. The unemployment rate remains far too high. Many companies, particularly small businesses, still have difficulty finding credit. And in recent months we have faced unforeseen obstacles, from rising oil prices, to an earthquake in Japan.

President Obama and his Administration will tackle these challenges head on. And even as we speed up our short-term recovery, we are working to set the stage for long-term prosperity. As the President has said, the greatest contest we face isn’t between Democrats and Republicans – it’s between the U.S. and our competitors from other nations. That’s why he is committed to out-innovating, out-educating, and out-building the rest of the world.

In this global competition, America’s small businesses are one of our greatest assets. Your approach combines vision, persistence, and creativity – exactly the qualities we must emulate as a nation, if we are to Win the Future.

So let’s continue to work together. We will listen to you, because you are the ones out there growing your local economy, coming up with new innovations, and creating jobs. As you do your part, we commit to do ours. If you win, America wins!

In February, at a small business forum in Cleveland, President Obama talked about hearing from a small business owner from Columbus, Ohio. She said, “As young as eight years old, I can remember having business ideas, and I was one of those go-getters out there with a lemonade stand, and babysitter clubs and worked as a tutor. I am truly an entrepreneur at heart. It’s not easy to give up a good job for the unknown, but I realize that’s what must be done in order to realize my dreams.”

I bet a lot of you identify with her. It’s not unusual for children in our country to prepare themselves to become entrepreneurs. And when they grow up, they get that opportunity. That’s part of the “Only in America” story, that so many people in this room represent.

That’s what’s at stake, as we work to Win the Future. When you go back home, I know you’ll write the next chapter in your own success stories. It won’t be easy. We will all face adversity. But the men and women honored today should give us confidence that together, we will embrace the unknown, and realize our shared American dreams.

So once again, thank you and congratulations!