Mr. President, I rise today to introduce the Minority Entrepreneurship Development Act of 2007. At the beginning of a new Congress it’s important to set priorities for the nation because every new Congress brings with it the hope for a brighter future. One of the ways that this new Senate will lead is by creating opportunities for more Americans to pursue the American dream. As incoming Chair of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, I hope to help in that effort by fostering the development of entrepreneurship in minority communities. It’s vital that current and future entrepreneurs from minority communities are given the opportunity to build their own piece of the American dream. I believe that this legislation – the Minority Entrepreneurship Development Act of 2007 – will help in that effort.

Mr. President, I want to take a moment and tell you why it’s so important to expand the numbers of entrepreneurs in the minority community. As a member of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, I have received firsthand testimony and countless reports documenting the positive economic impact that occurs when we foster entrepreneurship in under-served communities. There are signs of significant economic returns when minority businesses are created and are able to grow in size and capacity. Between 1987 and 1997, revenue from minority owned firms rose by 22.5 percent, an increase equivalent to an annual growth rate of 10 percent. Employment opportunities within minority owned firms increased by 23 percent during that same period. There is a clear correlation between the growth of minority owned firms and the economic viability of the minority community.

Although these economic numbers tell a significant part of the story they don’t tell the whole story of what these firms mean to the minority communities they serve and represent. Many of these business leaders are first generation immigrants; many are first generation business owners and many represent, for those in their communities, what hard work, determination and patience can do.

Mr. President, we must encourage those kinds of values in our minority communities and, quite frankly, in our nation as a whole. For generations, millions have come to our shores in search of a better life. Millions of others were brought here by force and for years were not given a voice in how their lives would turn out. But, Mr. President, how ever we got here, we all have become branches of this great tree we call America. This tree is still nourished by roots planted by our forefathers more than 200 years ago. Those men and women planted the roots of hard work, innovation, faith and risk taking.

When you think about it, Mr. President, those words are the perfect description of an entrepreneur. It is the spirit of entrepreneurship that has made our nation great. And that is why it is absolutely imperative that we continue to support and develop that spirit in our minority communities. To that end, this legislation provides several tools to help minority entrepreneurs as they develop and grow their businesses.

First, this legislation will create an Office of Minority Small Business Development at the Small Business Administration. One of its primary functions will be to increase the number of small business loans that minority businesses receive. Latinos, African-Americans, Asian-Americans and women have been receiving far fewer small business loans than they reasonably should.

To ensure that this trend is reversed and minorities begin to get a greater share of loan dollars, venture capital investments, counseling, and contracting opportunities, this bill will give the new office the authority to monitor the outcomes for SBA’s Capital Access, Entrepreneurial Development, and Government Contracting programs. It also requires the head of the Office to work with SBA’s partners, trade associations and business groups to identify more effective ways to market to minority business owners, and to work with the head of SBA’s Field Operations to ensure that district offices have staff and resources to market to minorities.

Second, this legislation will create the Minority Entrepreneurship and Innovation Pilot Program. This program will offer a competitive grant to Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tribal Colleges, and Hispanic-Serving Institutions to create an entrepreneurship curriculum at these institutions and to open Small Business Development Centers on those campus’ to serve local businesses.

The goal of this program is to target students in highly skilled fields such as engineering, manufacturing, science and technology, and guide them towards entrepreneurship as a career option. Traditionally, minority-owned businesses are disproportionately represented in the service sectors. Promoting entrepreneurial education to undergraduate students will help expand business ownership beyond the service sectors to higher yielding technical and financial sectors.

Third, this legislation will create the Minority Access to Information Distance Learning Pilot Program. This program will offer competitive grants to well established national minority non-profit and business organizations to create distance learning programs for small business owners who are interested in doing business with the federal government.

The goal of this program is to provide low cost training to the many small business owners who cannot afford to pay a consultant thousands of dollars for advice or training on how to prepare themselves to contract with the federal government. There are thousands of small businesses in this country that are excellent and efficient. They are primed to provide the goods and services that this nation needs to stay competitive. This program will help prepare them to do just that.

Finally, this legislation will extend the Socially and Economically Disadvantaged Business Program which expired in 2003. This program provides a price evaluation adjustment for socially and economically disadvantaged businesses as a way of increasing their competitiveness when bidding against larger firms. This is one more tool to increase opportunities for our minority small business owners.

Mr. President, I’ve outlined several ways that we can create a more positive environment for our minority small business community. These are reasonable steps that we ought to take without delay. Moreover, these are important steps that will help bolster a movement that is already underway. According to U.S. Census data, Hispanics are opening businesses 3 times faster than the national average. Also, business development and entrepreneurship have played a significant role in the expansion of the black middle class in this country for over a century. These business owners are embodying the entrepreneurial spirit that our forefathers carried with them as they established this nation.

With this legislation and in my role as incoming Chair of the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, I hope to play a part in helping to extend that spirit to the next generation of entrepreneurs. Not only is this vital for our minority communities, but it is vital for America. I urge my colleagues to join with me in support of the Minority Entrepreneurship Development Act of 2007.