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Small and minority business owners are frustrated, and understandably so. Since the nation’s economy first began its downward spiral, they’ve been forced to stand on the sidelines while the federal government has spent billions of dollars saving big businesses and banks. The first half of the TARP payout waived any obligation to include them in the bailout. And, adding insult to injury, these cash- and credit-strapped companies learned on Thursday that Wall Street executives were rewarded with 2008 bonuses in an amount almost equivalent to what the federal government has given them to help keep them solvent.
Last week, Sen. Mary Landrieu, the new chair of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, convened a panel of business owners and representatives of groups that advocate for women and minority-owned businesses to share their economic struggles and solutions that might help solve them.
Many of the challenges these businesses currently face were not new news. Access to capital remains a paramount concern, particularly in an environment in which banks are hesitant to lend when they are unsure of their own bottom lines.
“We spend time in New York, California, and Boston looking for equity sources to fund our businesses. I’m on the front end of the most significant economic trend to hit our country probably in the last 20 years,â€ said D’Juan Hernandez, president and CEO of the Louisiana-based Sun Energy Group.
“We are building power-generation facilities using renewable resources. Everybody we talk to says ‘That is a fantastic idea, best idea I’ve heard in my lifetime.’ [When I say,] ‘Great, can we have some money?’ Well, that’s another conversation. That’s the issue we’re facing as entrepreneurs, and I’d like to encourage this committee to look at creative out of the box mechanisms to spur investment in companies.â€
Hernandez suggested that such an investment might be possible using portions of state-based economic development funds matched by the Small Business Administration (SBA) and bigger companies to lure businesses to communities around the nation.
The SBA’s diminished state was also a concern raised by many on the panel. Harry Alford, president and CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce, said that there was a time when businesses could count on the agency for the assistance they needed and knew that SBA was their best resource.
Today, he says, the SBA is emaciated and dormant. Landrieu and the committee’s ranking Republican member Sen. Olympia Snowe have sent a letter to President Barack Obama urging him to sign an executive order that would make the SBA administrator a cabinet-level position as it was before President George W. Bush downsized it. They’ve requested that Obama do so within the first 100 days of his administration.
A new problem introduced during the panel was the use of credit cards by small businesses to make up for their inability to access traditional lines of credit. According to Todd McCracken, president of the National Small Business
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