Q&A: Commerce Secretary Gary Locke

Commerce secretary discusses the recovery and minority participation

Dingle: You’re seeing a lot of that around this conference —

Locke: That’s right.

Dingle: — the passion and the energy. In terms of accessing the green economy and these opportunities, how does Commerce and MBDA or SBA support that? For example, do you develop incubators for companies to go into these emerging industries? How do you create or help companies redesign themselves to take advantage of the green economy?

Locke: Well, the Minority Business Development Agency is the only federal agency committed to helping minority businesses grow and thrive and succeed. We’ve been able to, in just the last year, help minority businesses gain access to some $2 billion in capital and to increase their profits, just the ones that we’ve helped, and secure sales of some $2 billion. So we’re really focused on them. We’ve got a whole array of services to help minority businesses and all businesses in general. We have various programs that can, for instance, take a look at their operations and suggest ways in which they become more efficient, leaner using technology, therefore becoming more profitable. We also have programs to help the company sell their products all around the world. And too many small businesses that export export only one country. If they are exporting to one country there really is no reason why they should not be exporting to three, or four or five. We have people in consulates and embassies all around the world that will help these companies, American companies, find customers, find clients all around the world.

Dingle: So how do you get small firms to embrace the global market, to think of themselves as global companies? Because a lot of companies they don’t have the resources or they don’t have the capital to do so? Is there another answer that we can provide minority businesses to make sure that they access these opportunities globally?

Locke: Well, if a minority company, for instance, is already manufacturing the product, there is not much of a leap to ship it from one part of the United States to another corner of the United States. It doesn’t cost that much more to send it and ship it to another country. We have the people that will help find those customers, find those clients, and do the due diligence into the background checks on these potential customers. And all you have to do as a company is take advantage of our services, eventually perhaps travel to that foreign destination. We’ll line up all of the interviews and bring in all of these companies to meet with you and we will have prequalified them. Then we’ll help you even with the financing steps and all the credit issues that might be involved in selling your product to another country and receiving payment.

Dingle: I talked to a representative of your business liaison area and he said major corporations meet with Commerce all the time, but small businesses don’t because they don’t know that those resources are available to them. How do you get small businesses to access the liaison office and grow from small entities to larger entities?

Locke: Well that is really a burden and challenge for us. We and the Department of Commerce are revamping our services to make ourselves a lot more accessible, relevant, and known to small businesses all around the country. We’re starting what we call one-stop shop, business advocacy centers where you come in to one office, let’s say in Detroit, you meet with one person who will be cross trained in all the different programs and services at the Department of Commerce, as well as even some other federal agencies like the Small Business Administration, or even something in the Defense Department that will help manufacturers diversify and repair or supply parts for let’s say military vehicles and military equipment. But we’re offering and we’re going to be starting these one-stop shop businesses advocacy centers first in Detroit and, if successful, all around the country, so that a small business owner who is so consumed about how to find customers and clients and meet the payroll and keeping the operations going, that owner doesn’t have time to go to five separate different Commerce Department offices in their local city. And if you are 50 or 60 miles away you probably don’t have time to go to any place. So we’re going to be offering these one-stop business assistance centers, one place that you go to to get the full array of Commerce Department services, and we’re going to do it over the Internet, so you don’t even have to go by car to a city.

Dingle: So you provide the infrastructure, they access the opportunities?

Locke: That’s right.

Dingle: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

Locke: My pleasure.

Further Reading: Mission: Prosperity

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