When I first joined the Senate. I asked to become a member of the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee. In the Senate, this is one of the smaller committees, in terms of resources and staff, but I knew that it was going to be a place where I could help Marylanders who were or wanted to become small business owners and entrepreneurs. Year after year, small businesses have been the driving force creating jobs in this country. I wanted to help make that happen.
Fast forward and I now serve as Chair of the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee. And next week, May 1-7, is one of my favorite times of the year: National Small Business Week. I get to do it all year, but next week the entire country celebrates the resilience and tenacity of America’s entrepreneurs.
I look forward to National Small Business week because our nation’s small business owners continue to be the lifeblood of our national economy and our local communities. There are more than 32 million small businesses in America and they support more than 61 million jobs.
The theme this year is “Building a Better America through Entrepreneurship.” This is apt because, after enduring the deepest economic contraction in several generations at the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic, in 2021 the American economy grew at the fastest rate since 1984.
Along with a strong economy — and it is still a strong economy — we are witnessing a historic rise in entrepreneurship. Americans registered a record setting 5.4 million new businesses last year—which was a 1 million increase from the prior record of 4.4 million new business registrations set in 2020. Even better, the surge is being driven by entrepreneurs in some of our most underserved communities, with minorities, especially minority women driving the surge.
As Chair of the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, my top priority is to ensure that our nation taps into the entrepreneurial spirit that is sweeping our nation to build a fairer and more just economy for all.
The good news is, Congress already knows how to implement policies to support our nation’s entrepreneurs — it’s what we did during the pandemic.
Several independent studies have confirmed that the programs Congress created to support small businesses during the pandemic, including the Paycheck Protection Program, Shuttered Venue Operators Grant Program, Restaurant Revitalization Program, and several others, were largely successful and their implementation improved over time. I was proud to help create and expand these programs, which were found to successfully reach minority and women entrepreneurs. The studies found that these programs were equitable, as Congress specifically implemented policies that directly addressed the structural barriers that previously made it harder for them to start and grow successful businesses.
The COVID-19 pandemic has moved into a new phase and so too should our small business support. Congress must leverage the inroads that the Small Business Administration has made into these previously underserved communities, so that critical services and business loan products can better reach the entrepreneurs who need them most.
Here are three actions that Congress should take to make the most of this moment:
- Congress should create a direct lending program at the SBA that would allow for another avenue for access to capital, filling the current gaps in our financial ecosystem. A reimagined direct lending program would allow entrepreneurs to apply directly to SBA or through community lenders for a federal loans and presumably sidestep the current system that results in many entrepreneurs being denied several times. We know that many underserved entrepreneurs are discouraged even from applying for a business loan because of high rates of rejection.
- Congress should codify the Community Advantage Loan Program. This loan program is particularly successful at getting capital to underserved entrepreneurs.
- Congress should give SBA the tools and resources to nurture the next generation of entrepreneurs by creating a network of incubators and accelerators on the campuses of our nation’s Historically Black Colleges & Universities, minority serving institutions, and community colleges.
Now is the time for us to double down on our investments in America’s entrepreneurs. I’m in and I hope you will be too.
Thank you. Stay safe.