After seven years in the background, Vice President Al Gore is ready to take center stage. A perfunctory front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2000, in recent months Gore criss-crossed the nation, speaking out on issues ranging from gun control to the Internet to Social Security. And his stiff demeanor, which once upon a time may have been looked upon as a handicap, now seems downright enticing in the wake of recent White House travails.
Following a recent Community Empowerment Conference in Edinburg, Texas, that monitored the pulse of the nation’s empowerment zones, Gore spoke with black enterprise Business Editor Eric Smith about small business development, small business’ access to technology and the state of black America. For Gore, the time is now. The question is whether he’s the man to whom African Americans should look for leadership in the next century.
Q: You just returned from a conference examining the status of the empowerment zones. How large an economic impact do you feel the zones have made in urban areas across the country?
GORE: The zones so far have performed extremely well. Most of them have attracted a lot of new private investment to the areas, and they’ve created jobs and provided services. Some are doing better than others. But all are doing well, and most are doing spectacularly well. That’s why I’m calling again on Congress to approve full funding for the second round of empowerment zones.
Q: But what about the concerns and outright complaints of some that while the zones are attracting outside investment, they haven’t helped African Americans establish an actual equity stake within the zones?
GORE: I don’t think we can say that anything has really done enough until we can close the economic gap between blacks and whites in America. But we’ve made significant progress. To put that in context look at the fact that African American unemployment is now the lowest it’s ever been in history. The New York Times recently had a report about the dramatic increase in employment opportunities for young black males. Women as well as men are finding new opportunities in the job market and to become entrepreneurs. We’re trying to make capital more available with one-stop capital shops and with the Small Business Administration outreach programs to African Americans. The White House is working in partnership with the NAACP and the Urban League in minority communities. So, while much more remains to be done, we are making a lot of welcome progress.
Q: Can you give some specifics about your plans or initiatives that would actually increase access to capital for entrepreneurs and small business owners?
GORE: Working in partnership with the SBA, we’ve more or less deputized the NAACP and the Urban League to write up loan applications and to pre-approve loans because they have the expertise in the communities. They help us ascertain who’s ready and who’s not, whose business plan is likely to work and whose is likely not to work. So, this is a real breakthrough that forms