Association of Small Business Development Centers Annual Conference: Opening Remarks

Speech Date: 
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Speech Location: 
As Prepared For: 
Marie Johns

Good morning. Thank you Jess for your kind introduction

It’s a pleasure to be here. First of all, I want to congratulate you on your 30th anniversary. In the past three decades, SBDCs have served more than 12 million small business owners and entrepreneurs. That’s something we should all be proud of.

It is really exciting to see the international representation here at the conference. More than 10 countries are represented here, including Mexico, Oman, Brazil and a large representation from the Organization of American States. We are thrilled to have you here and look forward to working with you.

[OPTIONAL: Today is an important day. Congress is voting on/just voted on the Small Business Jobs Act, which gives small businesses a number of new tools, including larger SBA loans and an increased SBA guarantee—and it gives SBDCs another 50 million dollars!]

I’m especially happy to be here because supporting entrepreneurship is something I care deeply about.

I come from a small business background. Years ago, my grandfather started a landscaping business in Indiana. He also helped my uncle start his own business. When my uncle returned home with a degree in Pharmacy from Howard University, he couldn’t find a job. So my grandfather helped him build his own community pharmacy to serve the African-American community.

So I’ve seen firsthand what it takes to own a business, and how important business ownership is to the economy, to local communities, and to who we are as Americans.

Throughout my career, I’ve worked hard to support small businesses and entrepreneurs.

When I was President of Verizon, we organized a consortium of small firms in the Washington metro area that we could contract with. These small businesses were responsive and adaptable—just the qualities we needed to help us expand.

I also launched a program called SEEDS, which prepared over 200 high school dropouts for entry-level positions in the telecommunications industry, many of whom went on to become small business owners themselves.

I served as chair of the Chamber of Commerce in Washington, DC, where I helped create a Visitors Center to encourage tourists to venture “off the Mall” and explore D.C.’s many vibrant neighborhoods and small businesses.

And I’m an entrepreneur myself. When I left Verizon I started a consulting firm, and helped grow the company into a healthy and vibrant firm.

So, I come to the SBA with experience growing and supporting businesses and a commitment to fostering entrepreneurship.

Small businesses are part of who we are as Americans.

  • More than half of working Americans either own or work for small business.

  • They create two out of every three new jobs.

  • They drove our economy in the 20th century, and they’re the ones that will drive innovation, competitiveness, and our economic growth in the 21st century.

That’s why, now more than ever we must turn our attention to creating that next generation of entrepreneurs.

That’s where you come in. SBDCs are leading the way in creating that next generation.

For many, an SBDC is the first step on the road to starting a business. If someone has a good idea and wants to strike out on his own, SBDC business advisors are there to help write a business plan. If a small business owner is ready to expand their business, an SBDC counselor will talk to them about opportunities like exporting. If a young person wants to start a career as an entrepreneur, an SBDC counselor will help them decide what kind of business to start.

For Craig Dwyer and Eric Diamond, both students at Bucknell University, the college’s SBDC was the first place they turned to after writing a business plan. They had an idea for a company that installs solar panels, using available tax credits and government incentives as a selling point. They knew they’d need financing. The Bucknell SBDC helped them compile their financial statements, look at financing options, and enter their business plan in a contest. They didn’t win, and they had a hard time finding investors. But with the SBDC’s help they revised their business plan, secured a low dollar loan,and started their business, MainLine Solar.

Craig and Eric’s business is one of the more than 12,500 that were started with your help in FY09. That’s about 34 new businesses every day.

That’s great news. But there’s still more work to do.

America’s small businesses and entrepreneurs have been hit hard by the current recession. According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, entrepreneurship in America fell significantly in the past five years. The American economy is seeing fewer start-ups and high-growth businesses. Our technology sector is slowing down just as the rest of the world is catching up.

So what are the ASBDC and the SBA doing about this?

  • The Small Business Jobs Act, which is headed for the President’s desk, contains $50 million for SBDCs without a matching funds requirement. After the Bill has been signed by the President, SBA will work to implement it as quickly and expeditiously as possible. We will let you know the timeline as soon as details are worked out.

  • SBA is funding 10 Regional Clusters across the country, including several that are supported by SBDCs. These funds will help clusters maximize their strengths and compete on a global scale.

  • At this conference, the ASBDC leadership has put together a comprehensive technology training program. You have three full days of content in areas like helping entrepreneurs become investor ready, SBIR funding, and Technology Roadmapping. And yesterday, dozens of SBDC business advisors sat for the Technology Counselor Certification Exam.

  • We are also increasing financing and support for small business exporters as part of the National Export Initiative. SBA and the ASBDC have worked closely together for the past several years to help SBDC counselors advise small businesses about export opportunities. That work continues this week, with a full slate of international trade workshops.

But working together, we can do more to create the entrepreneurs America needs. Here’s how.

First, encourage and support technology companies. A study by our office of Advocacy showed that the US is falling behind in the technology sector. We can reverse that trendby offering specialized assistance to technology companies. I encourage you to expand your use of SBA’s SBIR and SBIC programs that support high-tech businesses. Talk to your clients about finding equity capital. Help them commercialize their products and bring their technology to market. You could even work to become an accredited Small Business Technology Development Center.

Second, think globally. 96% of the world’s consumers live outside of the United States. You can help your clients reach them. Exporting helps small businesses weather economic downturns, enhances American competitiveness, and creates good, well paying jobs. Through exporting, new opportunities are opening up for small businesses all the time. A client that a few years ago wouldn’t have even considered exporting might be in the perfect position to start. Since 2003, small business exports have grown by about 80%. However, small business still represents only about 30% of export revenues, and more than half of small business exporters only ship to one country. We can change that.

SBDC counselors need to learn about exporting opportunities, and business advisors need training on international trade. You might even consider, as San Antonio has done, establishing an International Trade Center as part of your SBDC network.

Third, reach into your communities. The SBDC program reflects the diversity and individuality of nearly 900 communities. You play an active and vital role in your communities. You’re conveniently located. You partner with other SBA resource partners like SCORE and the Women’s Business Centers to meet your community’s needs.

We need to ensure that as we create the next generation of entrepreneurs, we’re not leaving anyone behind. Small businesses owned by women and minorities are growing at faster rates than businesses overall. I’ve seen the results of your work with women and other underserved communities. I encourage you to keep up the good work and continue to serve entrepreneurs from all walks of life.

As I travel more in the coming months, I look forward to meeting with you and seeing your centers, understanding your challenges and looking at the local outreach work you do.

Back to Craig and Eric. They got a loan and found another business partner. They bought equipment, invested in a showroom, and hired four people. All before Craig graduated from college. In fact, he got college credit for running the business. A year later, MainLine Solar is a top tier solar installer in Pennsylvania. They employ fifteen people, they have a steady stream of residential sales and installations, and they’re moving towards large commercial products—including a 4464 solar panel, megawatt project.

Stories like this show SBA and the ASBDC are helping entrepreneurs start businesses every day.

This has been an amazing 30-year partnership. It has not always been easy or without its challenges. But my experience has shown me that great partnerships come from respect, open communication, and hard work towards a common goal. And I know that SBA and ASBDC have what it takes to create the next generation of entrepreneurs.

I look forward to building on our relationship in my role as SBA Deputy Administrator, because supporting small business is too important to our economic recovery to wait another moment. My commitment is that SBA will support you and the good work that you do, and together we’ll lead the country into another century of entrepreneurship, innovation, and prosperity.

Now, I’m very pleased to help recognize a very special group of SBDC networks.

Achieving accreditation is no small feat. It takes strong leadership, smart management, and measurable results.

To help us honor these outstanding SBDC networks, please help me welcome to the stage Antonio Doss, our Associate Administrator for the Office of Small Business Development Centers.