Mr. President, as chairman of the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, I am pleased to introduce today with Ranking Member Senator Snowe the Entrepreneurial Development Act of 2007. As always, I appreciate the opportunity to work with my colleague from Maine on the issues facing the Nation’s small businesses, and I believe that we have taken another step in the right direction with this bill.

The Entrepreneurial Development Act reauthorizes and expands the Small Business Administration’s entrepreneurial development programs. In particular, it supports women and minority small business ownership opportunities by boosting Small Business Development Centers, Women’s Business Centers, SCORE, and other counseling and assistance programs. Investing in these core small business assistance programs is critical to creating jobs and boosting our economy. In Massachusetts alone, SBDCs served over 8,500 entrepreneurs last year and our Center for Women and Enterprise has generated 15,000 jobs over the last 10 years. These programs will not only help our entrepreneurs succeed today, but they will build the next generation of small business owners too.

We have long supported these kinds of improvements and many of the provisions in the bill unanimously passed the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship last Congress.

The bill takes a number of steps to improve the Women’s Business Center grant program through streamlining paperwork and increased oversight, and also promoting greater consultation between the National Women’s Business Council, the Interagency Committee on Women’s Business Enterprise and Women’s Business Centers. This increased communication between the different groups will help them provide the most effective and efficient assistance to women-owned small businesses.

The bill also creates a Native American small business development program, an Office of Native American Affairs within the Small Business Administration, SBA, and a Native American grant pilot program to foster increased employment and expansion of small businesses in Indian Country through business counseling services. According to the SBA’s Office of Advocacy, the American Indian and Alaska Native community is one of the fastest growing business groups in the country. Yet nearly 25 percent of the country’s American Indian and Alaska Native populations live in poverty. There are huge small business opportunities just waiting to be tapped in Indian Country. We should be building on the energy and excitement among Native American entrepreneurs with more support from the federal government, and that’s exactly what we intend to do.

In addition, the bill creates several pilot programs that will help to deal with some of the most important issues facing small businesses. First, the bill establishes a pilot program to assist small businesses in complying with Federal and State laws and regulations. Reducing red tape for small businesses has always been one of my top priorities for the committee. We must help small firms navigate the labyrinthine regulatory system because compliance is critical to their success and their continued contribution to our economy. I’m committed to seeing that small businesses have every tool available—from guides to direct compliance assistance and counseling to assist them along the way.

In addition, this bill seeks to address the small business health insurance crisis through a competitive, pilot grant program for SBDCs to provide counseling and resources to small businesses about health insurance options in their communities. I have heard time and time again from small business owners that their number one concern is the high cost of health insurance. At least 27 million Americans working for small businesses don’t have health insurance. That means that 27 million Americans are one slip, illness or emergency room visit away from disaster. We must do everything we can to help them.

Finally, the bill creates a Minority Entrepreneurship and Innovation pilot program to provide competitive grants to Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Hispanic Serving Institutions, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian Serving Institutions, and Tribal Colleges to create a curricula focused on entrepreneurship. 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 growth technical and financial sectors. One of our Nation’s greatest assets is our diversity and investing in minority businesses only helps to increase the value of that asset. Unfortunately, investment in our minority business community has been sorely lacking. For example, in Massachusetts, minorities make up about 15 percent of our population, but they own only about 5 percent of the businesses and account for just 1.4 percent of sales. These statistics demonstrate why programs like the Minority Entrepreneurship and Innovation pilot program are so important to the future minority business leaders of tomorrow. Making this investment will ensure that we will have enough entrepreneurs from all sectors of our Nation to keep our economy competitive and strong.

I thank Senator Snowe for joining me in introducing this important bill, and I urge my colleagues to support it when it comes before the full Senate for consideration. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the text of the bill be printed in the Record.