REMARKS BY VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS AT WEEKLY “BACK ON TRACK” ZOOM CALL HOSTED BY THE SMALL BUSINESS ADMINISTRATION
South Court Auditorium
2:23 P.M. EDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, hello, everyone. Hello. I’m — I’ve been looking at you on this screen in front of me, and I just — I want to thank you all for all the courage and endurance and commitment that you all have shown forever, but especially in this last year and a half.
And it is great to be with all of you. I want to thank the Administrator, Isabel Guzman, for your kind introduction, but also for your leadership. She and I have had many conversations since the beginning of the first days of our administration, and you really are so committed and such a great and important leader, especially at this moment in time.
So thank you all. Thank you all for your leadership and for being here.
You know, when I look at you and when I think about who you are, it’s clear: You are not only leaders in business, you are civic leaders, you are community leaders, and you are our country’s leaders.
You know, I strongly believe that when someone starts a small business, it is a true act of self-determination. A small-business owner must have a vision, and through hard work and support, realize that vision, which, of course, helps determine not only their future but the future of their community.
You know, just think about it: Small businesses provide almost everything that people need in their community where they live, in their neighborhood — from the local dry cleaner, to the local neighborhood restaurant, to the small-batch manufacturer.
Small businesses create good-paying jobs and, in fact, employ — I don’t need to tell you all — nearly half of the private sector workforce of America.
Small businesses keep our nation competitive. You know, the President and I spend a lot of time thinking about our relationship with our allies and even our adversaries around the world, and one of the great points of emphasis for us is that we must remain competitive. Well, you are a big part of the formula for how we will do that. All that to say, you do so much. So, again, thank you.
When the President and I first took office, one of our top priorities was to provide small businesses with relief. And I don’t need to remind you guys of those days when we first took office and how folks were hurting and suffering, in particular how our small businesses were going through so much pain through no fault of their own.
But through our American Rescue Plan, we did what we intended to do, in terms of relief, to the tune of $60 billion. And as a result, so many small businesses have been able to reopen and stay afloat. In fact, we learned today: In the first half of this year, our economy has grown at the fastest rate in nearly 40 years. That’s a good sign.
And to build on this growth, our administration recognizes that small-business owners need more than just relief. They need more than only relief. They need more than relief. And in particular, an area that I focused on, as the administrator has said, is on what small businesses need also in terms of access to capital — access to capital — and an infrastructure that supports your growth.
And so our administration intends to deliver on both fronts.
First, on the issue of access to capital: So, over the first six months, we have been in direct contact — and, in fact, I’ve called and talked with some of the most active CDFIs, or community lenders — CDFIs is the wonky term — but community lenders in our nation.
And through these discussions and the work that I’ve been doing with Janet Yellen and our Treasury Department, we have begun to work on increasing community lending capacity, right? So, they do so much, but we need to increase their capacity to do more.
And as you well know, traditional banks — well, they’ve not always seen or understood the vision, like a community bank can, of — you know, take for example, women small-business owners or small-business owners of color, or small-business owners who serve local communities or low-income communities.
Community lenders, on the other hand, well, they understand the value in providing access to capital directly to communities. They often exist in the community, they live in the community, they understand the community, and in that way, understand the vision and the ideas of the small-business owners within those communities.
Community lenders have an incredible capacity, therefore, to add value to those communities and, by extension, to our whole country. And that is why we must support these lenders and why that has been one of the areas of focus for us.
Second, we will invest in the infrastructure that supports your growth. So we’ve had a lot of work that, as you all know, has been happening in these last six months to do just that. And there was a big vote last night — I’m sure many of you were tracking it. And this is all in the context of the work the President and I have been doing for months now with members of Congress on infrastructure policy.
So, yesterday, the Senate voted to advance a bipartisan infrastructure deal. And 67 senators voted in favor of moving the deal forward — Republican senators and Democratic senators. And the bipartisan infrastructure deal will improve the lives of people in our country and the strength of our small businesses.
And I think it’s — I will speak for the President and myself to say it’s a point of pride that it was a bipartisan deal because I don’t need to tell you all small businesses that — the contribution they make to communities and the challenges they face really don’t have much to do with who they voted for in the last election or will in the next election; it has to do with what they need to do on the ground, every day, to actually be successful and add value to their communities. And why? I mean, if you think about the infrastructure piece of it and why the bipartisan work was important — well, infrastructure, it is more difficult to get your goods to market when our roads are crumbling.
Infrastructure — why is that important? Well, it’s more difficult for your customers to travel to your store when our transit, and in particular, our public transit systems, are failing.
It is more difficult for small businesses to reach new customers when their Internet connection is slow or, in many cases — and I know we have a lot of rural business leaders here — when that Internet connection is slow or non-existent.
So our infrastructure as a nation needs an upgrade. And the bipartisan infrastructure deal, for that reason, is, we believe, historic — because it will make a once-in-a-generation investment in our nation’s infrastructure, positioning our small businesses to compete in the 21st century.
And I’ll share with you a quick story about an incredible business leader, among the many — I’ve been traveling around the country meeting with folks. And recently, I met a business owner by the name of Meagan Kaiser, and she runs an agricultural lab in Bowling Green, Missouri. And we had a long conversation.
But her family’s business is at the cutting-edge of precision agriculture and green farming. And her clients, therefore, are from all over the world. But she pointed out she’s got a really big problem on the infrastructure point, which is, she cannot get the Internet at speeds she needs to upload soil samples for her clients.
So, literally, she’s talking to customers, or potential customers, from around the world, and then she needs to send them her spreadsheet; she needs to send them information about what’s she’s doing. And because the infrastructure around the Internet is so slow, she can’t upload what she needs to send them immediately.
So, you know, what she said to me is, “I want to be competitive. I feel that my business is a reflection of America’s commitment to business and small business.” And she — you know, she basically let on that it’s kind of embarrassing because she wants to be thought of — because she is a world-class business, but if she doesn’t have the infrastructure to support what she is doing, which is running a world-class business, then what’s that going to mean to the bottom line?
So, our nation’s infrastructure must support businesses like hers and support the growth of all small businesses.
And, with that, let me just end where I began, which is the point of self-determination. And it’s such an important point.
All of you — you have vision and you have drive. A strong sense of purpose often comes from within, as we all know. But it requires support — support from your family and your friends, support from your community, and you deserve to have the support from your government.
So, I want you to know that the President and I are 100 percent committed to supporting America’s small businesses and small-business owners.
And again, thank you all for your leadership, for your courage, for your strength, for your vision. And I look forward to working with you as we go forward. Thank you all very much.
ADMINISTRATOR GUZMAN: Well, that was amazing. Now you know what motivates me every day — I mean, this incredible incentive for helping our small businesses.
And now it’s my privilege to introduce two small-business owners, Tiara Flynn and Walt Rowen.
Tiara Flynn is an entrepreneur and an Air Force veteran from Las Vegas, Nevada. As President and CEO of Sumnu Marketing, a minority business enterprise originally launched by her father — it’s a family business — Tiara helps fellow small-business owners access the marketing tools they need to grow. She’s won numerous awards for her efforts to partner with other minority business enterprises. And Sumnu Marketing received SBA assistance during the COVID pandemic through our PPP and EIDL programs.
So, welcome, Tiara. Please kick us off and share your question for the Vice President.
MS. FLYNN: Thank you so much, Administrator Guzman. As a two-time SBA award-winning family-owned firm, we really appreciate you being here and the support that we’ve gotten over the years.
Madam Vice President, I can’t thank you enough for being here with us small-business owners today. You mentioned access to capital in your remarks, as well as the Administrator, and you work with, you know, our community lenders. For many of us, especially those in the underserved areas, access to capital is crucial. Even before the pandemic, Black women entrepreneurs received drastically lower venture funding support on average compared to our white counterparts. And yet, over 1.5 million businesses generating $45 billion in revenue are majority-owned by Black women.
As we move beyond the pandemic, how do you think about expanding access to capital for small businesses and, specifically, as it relates to closing the gaps and disparities for Black women entrepreneurs?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: That’s — that’s a great question and a great point. So, I’ll tell you — first of all, here’s how I see it: The pandemic really, in many ways, exposed the fissures and the failures and the fractures in in our society and in our economy and in our structures and our systems. But I do look at that as also an opportunity that was created — right? — which is more people have been able to see the flaws that we have known have existed. And in that way, I think that there is a will, a desire, and a momentum to address that stuff and address it head on. And so, let’s think about it in terms of the context in which we know exist.
I think of it as we are starting a new era, you know, and a new epoch — a new, in many ways, beginning, but a beginning in that this is the moment to really leapfrog into where we need to be, instead of thinking just incrementally about how we can progress. And in that way then, with that sense of optimism but also ambition, I think we have an opportunity to shape an economy of the future and to make it more inclusive. Right?
We — the President cares deeply about you. Let’s build from the ground up. Let’s — let’s build — right? — from the middle out. But I also say, let’s build from the outside in. Right? Let’s make sure that we are inclusive in bringing folks into these systems.
And so, for CDFIs, for community lenders, they — they are uniquely designed and exist — it’s almost the culture of their businesses to really have an awareness and a sensitivity to see the vision of communities and then to help harness the talent and the ambition within those communities.
And, you know, for example, the place my birth, Oakland, California — one of the small businesses of those that I’ve been visiting is the Reign company. And there, I met with a woman who started a catering company, you know, like many restaurants and caterers in their own kitchen — right? — and then wanted to build on that and get an industrial-size apparatus.
And — and so she had the ambition, and she went to a community lender to invest, knowing that that catering company and that place actually was something the community wanted and would support.
I met with and talked with Onna Leboe who is a Native American entrepreneur who is investing in a quilt business, knowing that the community actually — you know, quilt ceremonies and quilts are very important to the community; it’s something people want. And she was able to go to a community lender to get that kind of support because the community lender understood what the community wants and understood her vision then.
So, that’s the work that we need to do. And in fighting for small businesses in particular — again, understand that one of the keys for folks to not only open a small business, but grow a small business, equally important is access to capital.
And so, our Build Back agenda basically is designed to invest billions of dollars to support small businesses around access to credit and funding, of course, and research and development, which so many businesses need to do to, again, grow.
And — and we’re also putting resources and money — significant money — into creating incentives for venture capital investment. And that’s all on top of the $60 billion that we did in the American Rescue Plan and with the PPP to address the support that folks need. But again, as I said in my comments earlier, not only on the piece of our relief but what we need to do to leapfrog into where our system could actually be better than it was before.
So, thank you for that.
MS. FLYNN: Thank you. I really appreciate it and looking forward to the future work.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
ADMINISTRATOR GUZMAN: That’s wonderful. Well, thank you so much, Madam Vice President, for that response. I think that you’ve nailed it. I mean, capital is going to lead to opportunities for our small businesses.
And now we have Walt Rowen joining us. He’s an entrepreneur from Columbia, Pennsylvania, which is a borough in Lancaster County that was once just a few votes shy of becoming the new United States capital, I’ve learned today.
So, Walt is the President of Susquehanna Glass, which is a family-owned-and-operated glass decorating business started more than 100 years ago by his uncle and grandfather with a single glass-cutting machine on the banks of the Susquehanna River.
So, Walt has led the growth and expansion of the business to include extensive work and product development and sourcing, and he’s proud to offer, as well, the Made in America sticker on most of his products and programs. Susquehanna Glass also received crucial relief during the pandemic from the SBA’s PPP program.
So, welcome, Walt. Great to have you here. Please, share your question for the Vice President.
MR. ROWEN: Good afternoon, Madam Vice President. It is an honor to be speaking with you. My name is Walt Rowen. I am the owner of Susquehanna Glass in Columbia, Pennsylvania, and I’m a member of the Small Business for America’s Future Small Business Council.
We are a family-owned business that has been in business for over 111 years. We employ a little over 50 — 60 people; 50 percent of those are women. The pandemic has affected a majority of the small, street business owners, including myself. And infrastructure is so important to our work to recover from COVID-19, not just through the bipartisan infrastructure deal of new roads and bridges, but also through the broader investments in family supports, like childcare you spoke to in the Build Back Better plan as well.
My question is: Small businesses are the heartbeat of our economy and our communities. Sometimes it feels like policymakers just don’t hear us. How are you [working] to make small businesses have a voice in your efforts?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: That’s great. Well, first, let me congratulate you to — you and your family, Walt. That’s incredible.
MR. ROWEN: Thank you.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: And I’m sure — I’m sure you’ve got a lot of lessons learned. And I’m sure you’re with — by virtue of being with this group — sharing it with everyone. I’d like to hear some of the lessons learned as — so that I can make sure that our policies are reflecting those lessons as well.
But, you know, here’s how I see it — and I hope that this is something that I can say over and over again to as many people as possible: I believe that our small-business owners are pillars of the community. I know small businesses. I grew up in neighborhoods of small businesses.
You are not only business leaders, you are civic leaders. It is our small businesses that are supporting the local Little League team, that are hiring locally, that are role models for the young people in the community. You are the ones where, you know, whether it be a restaurant or a dry cleaner or a — you name it — where, you know, folks can go and you know, and — you know, you know their names. And if they’re having a bad day and they walk in, you can kind of sense it and say, “Hey, how you doing?”
I mean, really, small businesses are so, so much, not just intertwined — are so much the part of the fabric of communities, the culture of communities, the heartbeat of communities. I love our small businesses.
You know, it’s — and not to mention, not only in terms of the heartbeat and the soul of — and the culture of the community. You are part of the heartbeat and the infrastructure of our economy — of our economy.
So, for all of those reasons, we have to see, highlight, uplift the stories and the role of our small businesses.
And, you know, at its core also, I do feel very strongly that government should be in the business of encouraging and rewarding self-determination. Right? And self-determination in my mind is, as much as anything, about encouraging people to have a vision and to actualize that vision, encouraging people to have choices and exercise those choices, to make decisions about their lives, to act on — right? — good ideas. And that’s, as much as anything, what you and what everyone, as a small business, what you do — again, in addition to employing half of the private-sector workers in America.
So, we’re making sure that small businesses have a voice. And in large part, that’s about making sure that we are listening.
And I’ll tell you, the first event that I did when we came into the White House was with small-business owners. My first visit leaving this place and getting out there was with small businesses. In fact, I’ll tell you — I don’t know if she’s on it — but one of the — the first small business I visited, a place called Fiber Space, just in Virginia, and it’s a small business that she’s — it’s basically for crochet and knitting and beautiful yarns.
And I’ll use that business as an example of what I’m talking about.
I visited there six months ago, so it was still while we were really feeling the effects of the pandemic. And her small business is a place that people could go. And she would talk about their craft and she would talk about then, by extension, their dreams and their lives and their families. You know?
So, anyway, we will continue to advocate for you, for all of our small businesses. And, of course, as I said earlier, the $60 billion in the American Rescue Plan, working with Secretary Yellen on CDFIs. And doing also more to — as the conversations I’ve been having with CEOs of the big corporations, like J.P. Morgan and Bank of America — to talk with them, as I’ve been, about not only what they can and have the capacity to do around PPPs, but again, the piece that’s about the private equity component of community lending.
So, thank you. And, again, congratulations to your family for your success.
MR. ROWEN: Well, thank you very much, Madam Vice President.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
MR. ROWEN: And if you keep listening, we certainly have plenty of stories to tell.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah. That’s right.
MR. ROWEN: Thank you again.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
MR. BUTTLE: Well, let me add my thanks to you, Madam Vice President and SBA Administrator. This has been an amazing conversation. There’s so much going on right now with the infrastructure deal. The fact that you took this 30 minutes to be with us means so much in our community. But we also want to let you get back to work, to get that infrastructure bill passed. So, we appreciate you being with us.
Thank you so much on behalf of all of this amazing group of small-business leaders from across the country.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
END 2:47 P.M. EDT