BE, Walmart to Host Economic Forum

As President Barack Obama unveils initiatives to bolster the middle class, create jobs, and assist small business, Black Enterprise is bringing together BE100s CEOs, government officials, and economists to offer the administration solutions. On Thursday, the conference, 20/20 Vision: A Look Ahead at Black America in the Next Economic Boom, sponsored by Wal-Mart Stores Inc., will specifically address three key issues: education and workforce readiness, small business and innovation, and wealth-building and financial reform with the aim of developing a series of policy recommendations.

“We are bringing together business leaders, government officials, and economists to develop initiatives for short- and long-term job creation, education, economic development, small business innovation, and wealth-building targeted to the African American community,” says Derek T. Dingle, senior vice president and editor-in-chief of Black Enterprise magazine.

The forum will feature U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk; director of the White House Domestic Policy Council Melody C. Barnes; Commerce Department Chief of Staff Rick C. Wade; and Walmart SVP, Corporate Affairs Esther Silver-Parker. A series of policy recommendations developed at the day-long event will be presented to the White House, business groups, and civic and non-profit organizations.

“It takes business, government and private citizens all working together in order to solve big problems,” said Walmart’s Silver-Parker. “Walmart is committed to working together and making a valued contribution. That is why we partner with businesses, community leaders and organizations like Black Enterprise to push for positive change in the communities we serve.”

The event comes on the heels of Wednesday’s State of the Union address. With Obama’s approval rating hovering at 57%, and the surprising upset in the U.S. Senate race in Massachusetts that lost the Democrats the 60-vote filibuster-proof majority, the speech is expected to be used to reset the Obama administration’s agenda.

The importance of the forum is underscored by Thomas Boston, CEO of EuQant and a member of the Black Enterprise Board of Economists, who says that while the White House is finally coming around to understanding the importance of small business, “there’s still no direct focus on minority business and African American business.” Assuming opportunities the administration has created for small businesses will trickle down to black-owned firms “is wrong” adds the economic professor, citing a continuous rise in the African American unemployment rate and the difficulty for African-American owned businesses to obtain government contracts.

With regard to the stimulus money, “there should have been–and needs to be now–an emphasis on the disbursement,” says Boston, explaining that states need guidelines in the procurement of contracts, since many that were awarded “shovel-ready” projects by the Department of Transportation have waived the requirements of the disadvantaged business enterprise goal in order to begin  projects sooner.

More than 250 attendees from the world of business, government, media, and education are expected at the invitation-only forum in Washington, D.C.

“It is our intent for these panel discussions on jobs and workforce readiness, small business and innovation, and financial reform and wealth-building to inspire dialogue and debate that can be transformed into plans and action,” says Dingle.