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Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez
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Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis

Remarks by Hilda L. Solis, Secretary of Labor
Minority Business Roundtable
Willard Hotel, Washington, D.C. ,
Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Good afternoon everyone. Buenas tardes! And thank you — muchas gracias — Roger for that kind introduction. Thank you for inviting me to speak this afternoon. It's great to be here. I'd like to thank all of YOU for the good work you do everyday.

I know it's not easy. But even in these tough times, you continue to be an incredible resource for minority businesses and entrepreneurs. You serve as the unified voice — the advocate — for the minority business community and you make sure that people of color and all minorities have a seat at the table. So thank you, for your hard work.

This meeting comes at an important time. The conversation about our economic recovery is getting sharper by the day. And as the debate about promoting job creation carries on, Democrats and Republicans will both agree that supporting small and minority businesses is critical.

You've heard the President say it before: "small businesses have always been the engine of the American economy." I know I'm preaching to the choir here, but you all pack a huge punch...
Minorities own 15% of all U.S. businesses, or more than 3 million firms. And 99% of these firms are small businesses accounting for nearly $600 billion in revenues. Minority-owned firms have been growing at more than six times the rate of all firms in the U.S. And Latino companies have been seeing exponential growth for the last three years.

Your businesses are leaders in innovation and create two thirds of all new private sector jobs — employing half of all working Americans. These businesses are the cornerstone of underserved communities... They are a source of pride for working families... And, every day, we see America's entrepreneurs continue to take risks with new ideas.

There's no question: as our economy recovers, small and minority businesses will continue to play a pivotal role in supporting our country. And look, I know a lot of folks are frustrated with the pace of our recovery — the President has even said that he wished jobs were being created more quickly. We're at a critical time. And we've still got a lot to get done.

We need to continue to make smart investments in training and manufacturing. And we need to continue to help businesses like yours grow.

Over the past two and a half years, this administration has made many important investments to support and encourage small and minority businesses...

We've expanded access to capital... Supported start-ups and high-growth firms... We've made tailored our workforce development training with you in mind... Entrepreneurs now have real support to make their dreams come true... We've made investments to increase small business exports... And we've supported 17 direct tax breaks to promote small business growth... with a special focus on underserved communities.

In the last two years, SBA has supported 28,000 minority-owned businesses with more than $10 billion dollars in lending support. I come from an underserved neighborhood, so I know first hand what this kind of support means to those businesses.

It's more than a bottom line. For the entrepreneur, it's a dream come true... For the single-mom, it's being able to go to sleep at night knowing that you're kids will be able to eat tomorrow... It's a sense of self-worth and of dignity. So I'm proud to serve a President that has made this possible for the American people. But we're not done yet — far from it, in fact.

And the Department of Labor has an important role to play. Part of our mission is ensuring that all Americans have access to safe jobs with fair pay and good benefits. One way we've done that is by making sure our federal contracting opportunities are accessible to all of you.

As part of the White House Small Business Initiative, my office of "Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization" is hard at work making sure that you get a piece of the pie.

And they're doing a great job...

We want to make sure that small businesses are ready and can compete for these contract opportunities. So we've done a lot of outreach and coaching with these businesses to give them the tools to be able to compete for our contracts successfully.

And you should write this down — we're going to be hosting a small business outreach conference this September in San Francisco. You can visit dol.gov/osbpfor details.

I also want to tell you that last year; the Labor Department met and exceeded its contract goals for small and minority-owned businesses. And, approximately 70 percent of our contracting is for job training related services. The vast majority of those contracts are awarded for construction and operation of our 124 Job Corps centers across the nation. Job Corps is a free education and training program that helps young people learn a career, earn a GED, and find and keep a good job.

And allow me to remind you that Small Businesses are important customers of our career one stop centers. And we're working with SBA to make sure that these one-stops provide recruiting services, labor exchange, and support to entrepreneurs. So, we've really made sure that our contracting not only engages small business, but that they serve to enhance our workforce training initiatives, too.

Which brings me to my next point...

I mentioned it earlier, but it's important for you to know that the training programs we've invested in have been tailored with your needs in mind. We know the prosperity of businesses is critical. And a capable workforce — equipped with the skills for the jobs of the future — skills that meet your needs — is key to your success.

However, I am aware of the concern many of you have with regard to finding high skilled American workers. And one common criticism of the public workforce system is that it has taken too long to adapt. Well, it takes time to set up training programs, and it takes time for businesses to see the results. In this 21st century economy, we've got to shrink that time gap. We have to start training for the jobs the future today.

Over the last two years we have worked aggressively to ensure that our programs are training people for jobs that didn't exist five years, or even two years ago. These are high tech, high-growth jobs industries that you all are very familiar with. And we've been working with businesses like yours to make it happen. Because the public workforce system works best when private employers like you are engaged.

Take our H1-B Technical Skills Training Grants Program for example. We've made $240 million available to public/private partnerships that commit to creating training programs to support industries where employers are using H — 1B visas to hire foreign workers.

We will award at least $150 million to those that provide On-the-Job Training (OJT) to provide skills in fields like allied health, advanced manufacturing, and IT.

We're trying to "bridge the gap" between the skills employers say they need and the skills the workforce system has traditionally provided. The application deadline for this pool of grant money is November 17.

We also have $33 million available under our Jobs Accelerator Challenge. This program focuses on supporting what are called "industry clusters." Some of the best-known clusters include the technology cluster in the Silicon Valley, the pharmaceutical cluster in North Carolina's Research Triangle Park, and the energy cluster in Houston. Other states like Idaho, Oregon and Washington participate in multi-state food manufacturing clusters.

When innovation and collaboration are infused into communities like these, they create and retain higher-wage and sustainable jobs, leverage the flow of private capital, and encourage economic development. Regional collaboration is essential for economic growth because regions are the centers of competition in the global economy.

So I encourage those of you who work near an industry cluster to explore grant funds under this program. You can learn more by going to www.grants.gov.

I'd like to close by again stating that I know these are challenging times for all Americans. Government and business alike are feeling the crunch. We are all being forced to do more with less. That means we have to work together... we can't be successful any other way. So please know that I — and all of my staff at the Department of Labor — are here as a resource.

We want to help. Our door is open, and we look forward to hearing from you.

Thank you for having me here today. Muchas gracias.