Tuesday, June 26, 2007

America's Entrepreneurs Access Hollywood's Red Carpet With Launch of OPENForum.com

Several of Hollywood's leading lights and business owners are assembling at the Los Angeles Film Festival to share tips and insights with America's entrepreneurs on how to use the power of networking to build a business -- whether on Sunset Boulevard or Main Street.

Tonight, Peter Bart [pictured], editor-in-chief of Variety, is moderating a panel with the Academy Award-winning director, Sydney Pollack; Nancy Meyers, whose ground-breaking first film was "Private Benjamin" and recently wrote, produced and directed "The Holiday"; and Lawrence Bender, producer of the Oscar-winning film, "An Inconvenient Truth."

In their role as business owners and producers, the panelists will share ideas and insider advice business owners can use, no matter what type of small business they run. The live broadcast begins at 7:30 p.m. PDT on OPENForum.com, the newly launched portal featuring exclusive content, networking and marketing opportunities.

Business owners participating in the event can ask panelists questions and chat with OPEN from American Express President Susan Sobbott, and small-business marketing expert and award-winning blogger John Jantsch of Duct Tape Marketing. Starting today, Jantsch is one of many small-business problem-solvers who will be featured on OPENForum.com in order to provide busy business owners with actionable information to succeed in business.

OPENForum.com content includes a mix of information developed by OPEN from American Express -- including videos and information from its educational platform; interactive commentary from business owners; as well as a stream of fresh, relevant small-business content which is provided, in part, through media alliances with best-in-class small-business news providers, such as the New York Times, Fortune Small Business, Entrepreneur and Inc.com.

"Business owners want easy access to insights and connections that will help them solve problems specific to their business," said Susan Sobbott, president, OPEN from American Express. "OPEN Forum is a collaboration with and among America's entrepreneurs, and serves as a meeting place for business owners based on industry, region and business interests."

In addition to the launch of its online community today at OPENForum.com, OPEN from American Express is celebrating the success of the business owners it has partnered with over the past 20 years by releasing "OPEN Book: A Practical Guide for Business Growth."

"OPEN Book" is a concise guide offering actionable information to lead entrepreneurs through key business decisions, and help them recognize and avoid pitfalls along the way. It features cardmember profiles representing a diverse cross-section of entrepreneurial America.

They're "coolpreneurs," corporate workers who've decided to go it alone; "greypreneurs," retirees who've opted to start a new chapter in their working lives; "mompreneurs," mothers who've found new and fulfilling ways to meld their working and personal lives; and "ethicalpreneurs," those who've aimed to use their business as a platform to influence or affect social change.

Found among the colorful collection of small-business personalities in "OPEN Book" are:
* Chris McIntyre and Jeff Brown of EagleRider in Los Angeles, Cal., who operate a Harley-Davison Motorcycle tour company and "give people the chance to live the American myth";
* Lenie Ramos of Little Twig in Manhattan Beach, Cal., who creates organic baby bath products used by celebrity and ordinary Moms;
* Jinsoo Terry of Advanced Global Connections in San Francisco, Cal., who truly represents the American dream, and runs a consulting company that trains immigrants in leadership and communication skills by "overcoming weakness and setbacks and helping people unlock their potential";
* Alpaca farmers Connie and Thomas Betts of Cascade Alpacas of Oregon in Hood River, Ore., who discovered their inner entrepreneurs after retirement;
* Daniel Leader of Bread Alone in Boiceville, N.Y., owns an artisanal bread company and has established community-based micro-bakeries in South Africa to help improve the nutrition of malnourished people there; and
* Dr. Lynn McMahan of Southern Eye Center in Hattiesburg, Miss., an eye surgeon who, two days after Hurricane Katrina, loaded up two vans with equipment and drove through the devastated area to treat people in shelters whose eyes had been damaged by flying debris.

"'OPEN Book' showcases the lives and success stories of customers who inspire us every day," said Sobbott. "'OPEN Book' provides concise and actionable information business owners can apply to critical decisions related to cash management, branding, customer service and other challenges to help promote and grow their businesses."

OPEN's small-business experts share actionable content in six specific business areas:
* Raymond Joabar, senior vice president, addresses cash management;
* John Steward, senior vice president, covers customer service;
* Qing Lin, vice president, provides advice on how to use credit;
* Gina Taylor, vice president, speaks to sales;
* Marcella Shinder, vice president, talks about the importance of branding; and
* Diego Scotti, vice president, addresses advertising.

"OPEN Book" was edited and designed by Winkreative and magazine maverick Tyler Brule.

OPEN is the American Express team dedicated exclusively to the success of small-business owners and their companies. The OPEN Team supports business owners with unparalleled service. With tailored products and services, the team delivers purchasing power, flexibility, control and rewards to help customers run their business.

Specifically, business-owner customers can leverage an enhanced set of products, tools, services and savings -- including charge and credit cards, convenient access to working capital, robust online account management capabilities, plus savings on business services from an expanded lineup of partners.

To obtain more information about OPEN, visit www.OPEN.com, or call 1-800-NOW-OPEN to apply for a card or loan. Terms and conditions apply.

GoodBiz113 ad partner American Express Company is a leading global payments, network and travel company founded in 1850.

Sources: American Express Company, USA TODAY [photo]

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Friday, June 22, 2007

Kerry-Snowe Legislation Expands Venture Capital Opportunities for Small Business

Senators John Kerry [D-Mass.] and Olympia J. Snowe [R-Maine], chairman and ranking member of the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, introduced two bills this week to foster more equity investment in America’s small businesses.

Yesterday, Kerry hosted a roundtable discussion with venture capital experts, business groups, venture capital firms, and successful small businesses that have received capital through government-backed private equity funds to get input on legislation to improve the Small Business Investment Company [SBIC] and New Markets Venture Capital [NMVC] programs.

“Massachusetts ranks second in the country in venture capital financings -- with more than 37,000 employed by government-backed small business investments,” said Kerry. “If not for the Small Business Investment Company program, many of these small businesses would not have access to venture capital funds. But Washington can do more to foster public-private partnerships that leverage critical venture capital for small businesses.”

“Our proposals will attract new investors to back great ideas and stimulate economic development in impoverished rural, urban and low-income areas. This will help small businesses jump-start local economies, create thousands of jobs, develop new technologies, and keep our country competitive in the global marketplace.”

“For entrepreneurs and other aspiring small-business owners, a self-evident truth since the founding of our country is that it takes money to make money,” Snowe noted. “Our legislation makes that goal a little easier for aspiring small-business owners by ensuring that our entrepreneurs have access to the resources they need, so they can continue to drive America’s economic growth and job creation.”

Since 1958, when the SBIC program was created, more than 100,000 small businesses have received $48 billion in investments. Last year, SBIC financing totaling more than $21 billion supported more than 2,000 small businesses, which employed 286,000 people.

The program was designed to help small businesses acquire venture capital through government-backed private equity funds when capital through banks and other traditional sources was not obtainable. Companies like Intel, Quiznos, Jenny Craig, Federal Express, and Outback Steakhouse are all SBIC success stories.

The Small Business Venture Capital Act of 2007 will reauthorize the SBIC program through 2010, ensuring the continued availability of needed venture capital for small firms. It will also simplify the program’s regulations, encouraging new and existing investors to increase their involvement.

Kerry and Snowe also introduced the Securing Equity for the Economic Development of Low Income Areas Act of 2007, or the SEED Act, to promote venture capital investment in rural, urban and low-income areas. The bill improves the NMVC program, which Kerry helped create in 1999.

The NMVC program was designed to promote economic development, business investment, productive wealth and stable jobs in communities where there is little to no sustainable economic activity, but many overlooked business opportunities. Unfortunately, the program expired last year.

Specifically, the SEED Act will reauthorize the program for the next three years until 2010, making it possible for the Small Business Administration to license up to 20 more NMVC funds. These funds will have the potential to leverage a total investment of $250 million in small businesses in low-income areas, with $150 million backed by the government.

Sources: U.S. Small Business Administration, U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

Committee Examines Workforce Issues for Small Businesses in Renewable Energy

Instability in oil-producing regions and rising energy prices have made it clear that America needs to move towards energy independence. To meet this demand, the renewable-energy sector is increasing rapidly, with small businesses at the forefront of this expansion. Just last year, biodiesel production reached 225 million gallons. Today, with 148 biodiesel plants in operation, and close to 100 factories under construction, this industry is expected only to grow.

During yesterday's hearing, the House Committee on Small Business reviewed the state of the renewable-energy industry, and potential barriers that could limit its expansion -- including access to a well-trained, skilled workforce, and possible solutions to these obstacles. A bill introduced by committee member Bruce Braley [D-Iowa, pictured] provides funding for bioenergy workforce education.

"This field is still in its infancy -- but it is having significant economic impact," said Rep. Braley, chairman of the Subcommittee on Contracting and Technology. "The potential for new business and job creation is huge.

"Without a qualified workforce, the renewable energy industry will have difficulty filling open positions and will run the risk of falling short of its full potential. That's why new training programs are crucial."

Many small producers don't have the capacity to conduct adequate onsite training, yet a skilled workforce is essential for their survival. To surmount this obstacle and encourage continued growth in renewable energy, Braley has introduced the National Endowment for Workforce Education in Renewables and Agriculture [NEW ERA] Act of 2007, which will provide funding and programs to expand the renewable-energy workforce.

Under the bill, grants would be awarded to community colleges to create renewable-energy workforce education and training programs, allowing for increased investment in human capital. These initiatives will provide a new set of bioenergy workers, ensuring that the expansion of the renewable-fuel industry will have adequate support from skilled professionals equipped with the tools to stay competitive in the field.

"In order for this growing industry to truly flourish, our workforce must have the skills and knowledge necessary to stay on the cutting edge of new technologies," Braley noted. "Proper training will ensure that the renewable-energy sector will continue to develop in a sustainable way."

The renewable-energy industry not only serves as a strong alternative source of energy, but it also creates thousands of jobs nationwide. In 2006 alone, the ethanol industry created over 160,000 new, good-paying jobs -- many of which included retirement and healthcare benefits. The industry's growth also helps to replace some of the 3.1 million manufacturing jobs that have been lost in the U.S. since 2000.

During the hearing, committee members examined ways to ensure that there is "smart growth" within the industry -- including implementation of the NEW ERA Act. Members also heard expert testimony on the importance of ensuring the availability of a strong workforce, and viable ways to go about doing so.

"With the vast potential for renewable-energy production right here in the heart of our own country, we have the critical opportunity to reduce our dependence on foreign oil while creating jobs; it's a win-win situation," Braley said. "For the security and prosperity of our nation, it's time to shift our energy dependence from the Middle East to the Midwest."

You can view parts of yesterday's hearing by visiting YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=B90F9338F9143970.

Sources: Congress Merge, GovTrack.us, U.S. House Committee on Small Business

Bipartisan Entrepreneurial Development Bill Expands Opportunities for Women- and Minority-Owned Small Businesses

Late yesterday, Senators John Kerry [D-Mass.] and Olympia J. Snowe [R-Maine, pictured] introduced comprehensive legislation to promote far-reaching entrepreneurial development programs. In particular, the bill expands women and minority small business ownership opportunities by boosting Small Business Development Centers [SBDCs], Women’s Business Centers [WBCs], SCORE, and other programs. It will also help reduce regulatory burdens on small firms.

“Investing in these core small business assistance programs will help create jobs in our state," noted Kerry, chairman of the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship. "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.”

“By investing in assistance and development programs that create small business opportunities for women and minorities, we are paving the way for all Americans to improve their entrepreneurial skills,” said Sen. Snowe, ranking member of the committee. “This legislation is critical to providing the necessary tools to expand and promote small business ownership, and create the necessary jobs that all Americans rely on.”

Many of the provisions in the Kerry-Snowe bill unanimously passed the committee last Congress. Specifically, the bill:

* Reauthorizes and expands key small business counseling and assistance programs like SBDCs, WBCs, and SCORE;

* Improves the WBC grant program through streamlined paperwork and increased oversight;

* Promotes greater consultation between the National Women’s Business Council, the Interagency Committee on Women’s Business Enterprise, and WBCs;

* 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;

* Seeks to address the small business health insurance crisis by creating a competitive pilot grant program for SBDCs to provide counseling and resources to small businesses about health insurance options in their communities;

* Establishes a pilot program to assist small businesses in complying with federal and state laws and regulations; and

* Creates a Minority Entrepreneurship and Innovation Pilot Program to provide competitive grants to Historically Black Colleges and Universities [HBCUs], Hispanic-Serving Institutions [HSIs], Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian Serving Institutions, and Tribal Colleges to create a curricula focused on entrepreneurship.

Sources: Library of Congress, U.S. Department of Education, U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

House Democrats Pass Significant Reforms for Entrepreneurial Development Initiatives

While many aspiring entrepreneurs have great ideas, it is not unusual that they face difficulty when it comes to turning their dreams of business ownership into successful ventures. This is often caused by a lack of adequate training.

Today, members of the U.S. House of Representatives acted to change this by approving a bipartisan package of new education and investment tools for small firms. Simply put, it's the most comprehensive restructuring of entrepreneurial development programs in nearly a decade.

The legislation that passed today targets growing sectors of the small business community, including veterans and women. It also offers assistance to help entrepreneurs cope with their most pressing challenges, such as regulatory burdens, rising health care, and energy costs. The result will be increased business growth and more successful ventures throughout the country.

"The face of business is changing and so are the challenges that entrepreneurs are being hit with," said Nydia M. Velázquez, chairwoman of the House Committee on Small Business. "If they are to succeed in the 21st century, then small businesses need access to the tools that will make that possible. This is exactly what we are providing them with today by passing this legislative package."

The House passed four bills that modernize entrepreneurial development programs across the U.S. Small Business Administration [SBA]:

* H.R. 2359, the SBA Entrepreneurial Development Programs Act of 2007, introduced by committee Vice-Chairman Joe Sestak [D-PA, pictured above], expands the role of Small Business Development Centers [SBDCs] and targets the most pressing economic challenges facing entrepreneurs today -- from the rising costs of health care and energy, to regulatory burdens and compliance costs. It also expands the SCORE program, to ensure services reach entrepreneurs across the country.

* H.R. 2397, the SBA Women's Business Programs Act of 2007, introduced by Rep. Mary Fallin [R-OK], expands the Women's Business Centers' reach across the U.S., and increases services in underserved communities. The legislation dedicates resources to strengthen centers and ensure stability in the program.

* H.R. 2366, the SBA Veterans' Programs Act of 2007, introduced by Rep. Vern Buchanan [R-FL], creates additional Veterans Business Outreach Centers and offers business development services targeted to veterans.

* H.R. 2284, the Native American Small Business Development Act of 2007, introduced by Congressman Tom Udall [D-NM], amends the Small Business Act to expand and improve the educational and technical assistance provided by SBDCs to Indian tribe members, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiian entrepreneurs.

"Around the country, small firms are taking the lead in creating jobs and developing their communities," said Chairwoman Velázquez. "Democrats took steps today to ensure that burgeoning entrepreneurs -- including returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and aspiring women business owners -- will be able to learn the skills they need to turn their dreams into reality."

Entrepreneurial development programs have been critical to the success of small-business owners nationwide. In fact, studies show that entrepreneurs who receive this assistance are twice as likely to succeed as those who have not.

These initiatives, and the service they provide, are critical to small business expansion. This technical assistance will enable entrepreneurs to better handle the unique challenges they face in today's economy and, thus, create jobs -- often, in areas that were previously underserved.

"This is a big step forward for aspiring entrepreneurs," added Chairwoman Velázquez. "This legislation ensures that emerging sectors of our small business community -- returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, female entrepreneurs, and senior citizens -- have access to the resources they need to not only start a business, but to also expand it. It allows the drivers of this nation's economy to remain on top when it comes to development and job creation."

Sources: Congressional Budget Office, GovTrack.us, Library of Congress, U.S. House Committee on Small Business

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Kerry-Snowe Bill Provisions Help Small Businesses Increase Energy Efficiency

Today, as the Senate debated a comprehensive energy bill, Senators John Kerry [D-Mass.] and Olympia J. Snowe [R-Maine] introduced legislation to press the Bush Administration to take action to help small businesses increase their energy efficiency.

The bipartisan bill also holds the Bush administration accountable for failing to implement an energy-efficiency assistance program enacted into law in 2005, and provides tools that will help small businesses reduce their dependency on fossil fuels.

As GoodBiz113 previously reported, in March, the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship held a hearing that revealed the federal government needs to play a more aggressive role in assisting small businesses in becoming more energy efficient.

Then, in April, Kerry and Snowe wrote to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency [EPA], seeking details on the Bush administration’s progress in implementing the ENERGY STAR Small Business Program. They also wrote to the Small Business Administration [SBA], asking for information about how the agency has implemented the energy-efficiency program mandated by the Energy Policy Act of 2005 [EPAct].

“Improving energy efficiency isn’t just good for the environment; it’s good for the bottom line,” declared Kerry, chairman of the committee.

“Many small businesses want to be part of the solution to addressing climate change -- one of our generation’s greatest challenges," he noted. "But we need leadership from this administration to promote and provide resources to help small firms that want to take the next step and reduce their energy use and costs. I am working to get provisions passed in the energy bill that will help small businesses achieve this goal.”

“As the ranking Republican on the Small Business Committee and as a longstanding steward of the environment," Snowe noted, "I firmly believe that small businesses have a pivotal role to play in forging a solution to global climate change and rising energy prices.

“According to a recent survey conducted by the National Small Business Association, 75 percent of small businesses believe that energy efficiency can make a significant contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. And, yet, only 33 percent of those respondents had successfully invested in energy-efficiency programs for their businesses. Our measure will help to incentivize small businesses to make a smaller carbon ‘footprint.’”

The Kerry-Snowe bill:

* Requires the [SBA] to implement, within 90 days, an energy efficiency program that was mandated in EPAct -- passed in 2005 to ensure jobs for our future with secure, affordable and reliable energy;

* Establishes an audit program to increase energy efficiency, using Small Business Development Centers [SBDCs];

* Promotes financing agreements between small businesses and utility companies to increase energy efficiency;

* Creates a telecommuting pilot program at the SBA, responsible for educational materials and outreach to small businesses on the benefits of telecommuting;

* Allows small businesses conducting energy-efficiency or renewable-energy research and development to be given priority consideration in the SBA-administered Small Business Innovation Research [SBIR] and Small Business Technology Transfer [STTR] programs; and

* Establishes loans for small firms to invest in use of renewable sources of energy in their business.

GoodBiz113's take: Despite myopic, misguided and purely nonsensical arguments to the contrary, climate change is real. We're pleased that Sens. Kerry and Snowe are leading this bipartisan effort to simultaneously hold America's 26 million small businesses accountable and incentivize us to do our part to help reverse the far-reaching and devastating effects of global warming.

Sources: Library of Congress, U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship

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"Tracks In The Sand," a (RED) Album for Africa, by Africa, Now Available on iTunes

We've introduced you to (PRODUCT) RED, the exemplary partnering initiative co-founded by Bono and Bobby Shriver to raise monies for the Global Fund to fight AIDS in Africa. [See November 2006 post, "Dec. 1 Marks World AIDS Day; (PRODUCT) RED Companies Continue the Global Fight Against AIDS."]. Now, we're pleased to inform you that GoodBiz113 ad partner iTunes is making "Tracks In The Sand," a compilation album presented by Vanity Fair and (RED), available for purchase in the U.S.

Inspired by Tom Freston's article, "Showtime In the Sahara," in this month's Bono-edited Africa issue of Vanity Fair, about traveling to an African music festival in Timbuktu, (RED) asked singer, bandleader, producer and philanthropist Youssou N'Dour, 47, a Senegal native, to curate "Tracks In The Sand." This iTunes compilation features 17 of the best recordings by West African artists -- including Salif Keita, Ali Farka Touré, Baaba Maal, and Oumou Sangare.

100% of the sales price of the "Tracks In The Sand" album will be contributed to the Global Fund, to help eliminate AIDS in Africa.

Buy "Tracks In The Sand" on iTunes now, and find out how your purchase can impact the lives of those affected by HIV/AIDS in Africa through the (RED) Impact Calculator!

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

June 19: Recycline Featured on Sundance Channel's "The Green" Tonight

This evening, GoodBiz113 profilee Recycline ["Recycline-Stonyfield Partnership Milks Resources to Benefit the Environment, Consumers and Each Other"] will be featured on Robert Redford’s "The Green," television’s only regularly scheduled program devoted to environmental issues and awareness. The Eco Biz segment will follow a Stonyfield Farms yogurt cup from recycling bin to Preserve® toothbrush to park bench, while explaining the manufacturing process and Recycline's mission.

Hosted by Alison Stewart, Eco Biz is an original series of short news and human interest segments that explore the people and businesses driving change in a new wave of environmental innovation, sustainability and social change.

To learn when tonight's segment airs in your area, check out Sundance Channel's schedule: http://www.sundancechannel.com/schedule.

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Friday, June 15, 2007

Cantwell, Kerry Introduce Plan to Help Fuel-Dependent Small Businesses With Rising Energy Costs

Yesterday, U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell [D-Wash., pictured] and John Kerry [D-Mass.] introduced legislation to create a fuel emergency program to help small firms struggling with rising gas costs. Kerry and Cantwell will also offer their proposal as an amendment to the energy bill currently under consideration in the Senate.

“Small businesses all across our country are hurting from record fuel costs that eat up their profit margins,” said Cantwell. “More than 25 percent of small businesses have had to increase their prices as a direct result of rising fuel costs. It’s time we helped fuel-dependent small businesses stay competitive, so they can continue providing good, high-quality jobs.”

Kerry and Cantwell’s bill, the Small Business Emergency Fuel Assistance Act of 2007, will be offered as an amendment to H.R. 6, the CLEAN Energy Act of 2007. Their proposal would create a grant program within the Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration that authorizes the Secretary of Commerce to issue grants to states to provide assistance for fuel-dependent small businesses in the wake of a presidential fuel emergency declaration. Small firms and farms demonstrating need and a plan toward becoming more energy efficient would be eligible for these grants.

Sens. Kerry and Cantwell, both members of the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, also held a hearing yesterday to examine the effect of high fuel costs on America’s small businesses. The hearing featured testimony by Frederick W. Smith, chairman, president and CEO of Federal Express, which got its start as a small business. Smith advocated for strong, bipartisan energy security legislation that would improve Corporate Average Fuel Economy [CAFE] standards.

Testimony also came from Janet Myhre, of Tacoma, Wash.-based small business Chuckals Inc., an independent office supply dealer. The delivery segment of their business is hurting under today’s fuel costs, and many of their products are increasing in cost as a result of fuel price hikes. For example, a cost of a carton of paper has increased 15 percent over the last two years.

Ms. Myhre testified, “As we’ve discussed with Sen. Cantwell and her staff, while there are new options for the consumer both in alternative fuel and vehicles, there currently are very few options for the small-business owner who has commercial fleets, which run on gasoline.”

Additionally, the Energy Information Administration testified that high gas prices are here to stay. Guy Caruso, head of the independent agency, reported that average gas prices are expected to remain at $3.05 for the summer – 21 cents higher than last summer, with another forecasted peak in August.

Click here to read Kerry's formal statement on the Small Business Emergency Fuel Assistance Act of 2007.

Sources: Library of Congress, U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship

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Thursday, June 14, 2007

Committee Seeks to Strengthen Key Initiatives for Sustained Economic Development

In many underserved neighborhoods, small businesses are an important engine of growth and revitalization, bringing much needed jobs and commerce. Oftentimes, the individuals wishing to start these businesses have difficulty securing adequate finances, leaving their aspirations stalled in the planning phase.

Today, the House Committee on Small Business examined two key initiatives that support economic revitalization in some of these disadvantaged communities: 1] the Microloan Program, and 2] the Program for Investment in Micro-Enterprise [PRIME] -- both of which fall under the purview of the Small Business Administration [SBA].

"There are many budding entrepreneurs who strive to open their own business, but due to a lack of experience or limited credit history, cannot secure capital," said Nydia M. Velázquez, committee chairwoman. "The microloan and PRIME programs have been instrumental in turning their dreams into reality."

Since its inception in 1994, the microloan program has provided credit to more than 700,000 small firms -- many headed by women, minorities and others who are facing challenges getting their ventures off the ground. These businesses have helped bring economic growth to areas where it is desperately needed, creating or retaining about 10,000 jobs in 2006, according to the SBA.

With a default rate of less than two percent, these investments have not only increased prosperity, but have done so while maintaining a better repayment record than traditional loans made by commercial lenders.

"These programs have been vital in moving people not just from welfare to work, but from welfare to business ownership -- an amazing accomplishment," Chairwoman Velázquez noted.

Despite this record of success, the Bush administration has proposed to eliminate the microloan program each year for the past four years. In its latest budget request, it has recommended increasing the cost of the loans for the borrowers, and to completely eliminate PRIME. At the hearing, members rejected these proposals and outlined ways to strengthen the current programs, making capital more affordable for borrowers.

Currently, microloan recipients cannot use their repayment history to improve their credit score. Building a strong credit history is a challenge for many business owners. By changing the current system, borrowers could improve their credit records, thus increasing the stability of their business and their ability to obtain future funding.

The committee also proposed reducing costs and providing greater flexibility, allowing lenders to better meet the needs of their clients. In striving for these goals, members seek to make loans more accessible for the next generation of entrepreneurs.

"For many aspiring business owners, a microloan is their only option, and we simply cannot allow these entrepreneurs to be left behind," Chairwoman Velázquez said. "The answer is simple: these programs must be permitted to continue, and any proposal to diminish them must be firmly rejected."

GoodBiz113's take: SBA's microloan and PRIME programs need to be sustained in order to help ensure that future businesses can thrive in underserved areas. Further, we'd like to see the changes proposed by Velázquez's committee embraced by her colleagues and the White House, and implemented ASAP.

Sources: PBS [file photo], U.S. House Small Business Committee

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Sen. Kerry Calls for More Action on Initiatives to Help America’s Veterans and Reservists

Today, Sen. John Kerry [D-Mass.], chairman of the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, sent letters to the Department of Defense, Department of Veterans Affairs, and Small Business Administration, calling on the agencies to work together to reach out to veterans and reservists to inform them about available small-business programs.

Kerry also released the following statement in reaction to the Small Business Administration’s announcement of a pilot loan program targeted to serve veterans, reservists and their spouses:

“This program is a good first step by Administrator [Steven] Preston to address the growing needs of America’s veterans and reservists who work for, or want to start, a small business. I will work with Administrator Preston to lower the interest rate and reduce loan fees for this program and, hopefully, make it a success.

“As the Administration develops a plan to reach out to veterans and reservists about this new program, it must be aggressive, comprehensive and coordinated, so our military service members and their families are aware of all the resources available to them. The Administration must provide information about the Military Reservist Economic Injury Disaster Loan [MREIDL] program as part of this outreach, and work with Congress to make important fixes to it.

“The SBA needs the full weight of the White House behind them to put the money and resources necessary into this program to make it a success. However, there is more we can do -- including improving existing loan programs, creating grant programs, implementing tax incentives for small businesses that employ reservists, and enforcing the government’s federally mandated contracting goal with service-disabled, veteran-owned firms.”

Under the SBA’s new program, today a veteran or reservist would pay 10.5 to 13 percent in interest on a loan. While this is a few percentage points less than other express loans, the rate is far higher than on loans made through MREIDL, which are capped at four percent.

Kerry created the MREIDL program in 1999 for small businesses that have experienced economic hardship, due to the deployment of an owner or key employee. Unfortunately, most reservists do not know about this program, due to a lack of information provided by the Administration and lack of coordination among the relevant federal agencies.

Today, there are more than 25 million veterans in America, including more than 1.1 million men and women who have left military service since 2001. Over the last five years, more than 500,000 reservists have been called to active duty -- and they are often staying longer or serving multiple deployments.

These numbers demonstrate the need for a comprehensive, coordinated effort by the Administration to reach out to these men and women, to make sure they know about small-business loans and counseling available to: 1] Help them preserve their business while they are deployed; or 2] To start a business after their service is completed.

Senator Kerry has been a leader in the Senate to expand economic opportunities for veterans and reservists after they have served their country, and is the author of several proposals to achieve these goals.

Last Congress, Kerry introduced the Military Families Bill of Rights, a bill that provided comprehensive and direct assistance for military members and their families -- including loans, grants and tax credits for Guard and Reserve members who own their own small businesses or work for one.

This year, Kerry has taken many steps to address the concerns of veteran and reservist small-business owners and employees; e.g.:
* In January, Kerry held a hearing to examine federal small-business assistance programs for veterans and reservists.
* In January, Kerry introduced the Active Duty Military Tax Relief Act to create new tax credits that bolster small businesses and their employees.
* In March, Kerry released a report on the State of Veteran and Reservist Entrepreneurship, which outlined the challenges veterans and reservists face in starting or expanding a small business, and detailed some solutions.
* In March, Kerry introduced bipartisan legislation to strengthen and improve the Military Reservist Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, expand resources for the SBA’s Office of Veterans Business Development, and create a new veteran loan program.
* In May, Kerry wrote to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, seeking increased accountability in the agency’s contracting goals with service-disabled veteran owned firms.
* This year, Kerry also worked to expand the definition of disabled veterans eligible for the Work Opportunity Tax Credit [WOTC]. This expansion was included in the small-business tax breaks that passed as part of the emergency supplemental appropriations bill. This law extended the WOTC through August 2011.

Coming Up...
On Thursday, June 21, 2007, Sen. Kerry's committee will hold a roundtable on "SBA Reauthorization: Small Business Venture Capital Programs." The event begins at 10 a.m. Eastern Time.

Sources: Peace Corps Online [photo], U.S. Department of Labor, U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, U.S. Small Business Administration, WashingtonWatch.com, WhiteHouse.gov

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Rep. Velázquez: Trade Changes Needed to Promote U.S. Small Business Abroad

Though small businesses make up 97 percent of America's exporters, they generate only 30 percent of national revenues from products sold overseas. The House Small Business Committee today pressed the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative [USTR] on their failure to have staff dedicated to ensuring that the needs of small firms are accounted for in trade practices, and examined current strategies to assist entrepreneurs with finding prospects in international markets.

"Small businesses have shown that they are eager and able to compete around the world," said Chairwoman Nydia M. Velázquez. "It only makes sense that there would be USTR officials dedicated to representing their interests.

"Despite the need for this representation, we heard today that out of the 22 assistant USTRs, not one is charged with aiding entrepreneurs. This is simply unacceptable in today's global marketplace, where small businesses play such a dominant role."

Though small firms have demonstrated interest and achieved success in the international arena, the unique challenges they face have slowed their expansion. For small businesses, conducting foreign transactions may prove to be expensive, thus limiting their ability to reach new customers and grow. Entrepreneurs also use a disproportionate amount of their resources navigating complex customs requirements, as well as complying with local, state, and federal laws.

Recent agreements have not included industries dominated by small business. They have also failed to stop unfair trade practices -- such as dumping and intellectual property theft -- that harm entrepreneurs. These actions are limiting small businesses' opportunities to benefit from trade, making it more difficult for them to compete domestically and internationally.

"Global opportunities are critical to many small business owners, who rely on trade to expand their ventures and continue innovating," Velázquez said. "Current trade measures have not created an environment that is conducive to entrepreneurial success."

Expansion into new markets has the potential to boost revenues -- improving small firms' overall ability to create jobs and contribute to domestic economic growth. Steps must, therefore, be taken to ensure they are an integral part of trade policies.

At today's hearing, witnesses outlined a small business-oriented trade strategy -- including international commitments that provide more transparent and less expensive regulations. Additionally, harmonizing and simplifying customs requirements would allow small businesses to easily export to multiple countries, giving them access to more customers in return for their investment.

Trade promotion programs that focus specifically on small firms -- such as the financing program at the Export-Import Bank -- can play an important role in maintaining small companies' competitiveness. These changes will increase domestic profits from exports, combating the rising trade deficit.

"As Congress debates new international agreements and considers changing its trade rules, small firms have a lot at stake," Velázquez noted. "This committee will work to streamline the process and ensure small business interests are promoted, not marginalized, as they have been in the past."

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Sunday, June 10, 2007

June 17 Deadline Nears to Submit World-Changing Ideas for American Express® Initiative, The Members Project

As we reported on May 17 ["American Express Empowers Cardmembers to Make a Positive Impact in the World Via Unique Online Program"], GoodBiz113 ad partner American Express® has introduced The Members Project [SM], a unique and exciting new initiative that empowers Cardmembers to come together as a community and unite behind project ideas for making a positive impact on the world.

Cardmembers have till 11:59 p.m. EST on June 17 to dream up and submit their project ideas. After the select advisory panel -- including Geoff Canada, Ellen DeGeneres, Dr. Jane Goodall, Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Dr. Michael L. Lomax, Wynton Marsalis, and Gabrielle Reese -- pore over the applications and select the top 50 ideas, fellow Cardmembers can then rate and discuss the innovative projects on message boards.

Since the launch, thousands of project ideas have been submitted and rated, and Cardmembers from all over the country have begun rallying behind the ideas they like best. Highlights of projects currently posted on membersproject.com include:
* More than 900 community development projects -- including mentorship programs, after-school initiatives for kids, and homeless outreach
* More than 700 education projects, ranging from literacy programs to textbook exchanges, to life skills classes
* More than 600 projects concerning the environment -- such as land conservation, energy efficiency, and alternate transportation
* More than 125 arts and entertainment ideas -- including jazz preservation, music in schools, and film projects

Multiple project ideas center on themes. Three of the most popular themes are:
* Water purification
* Microfinance
* Environmental preservation

Ultimately, Cardmembers will vote and unite behind one incredible idea. On August 7, American Express will help bring that winning idea to life with up to $5 million -- i.e., $1 for each Cardmember who registers to be part of The Members Project. Registration is free and lasts throughout the entire Members Project selection and voting process. The more Cardmembers registered, the more dollars available for the winning project idea.

Will you send vital vaccines to India? Sponsor schools in the inner city? Or fund a next-generation hydrogen car? The possibilities are endless. The decision is yours. Visit membersproject.com.

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Thursday, June 07, 2007

Small Producers Outline Priorities for 2007 Farm Bill

The House Small Business Committee today brought together a broad cross-section of agriculture producers and rural organizations to examine the needs of small family farms and rural entrepreneurs in the upcoming debate on the 2007 Farm Bill.

Among the groups represented during the hearing:
* National Rural Electric Cooperative Association
* National Farmers Union
* National Corn Growers Association
* National Association of Wheat Growers

More than 70 percent of the nation's 2 million farms are small businesses-entrepreneurs that contribute to rural economies, and support their local communities by using the goods and services of thousands of other small firms.

"Small family farms are a critical part of rural communities, creating long-term stability and supporting entrepreneurship in the communities around them," said Chairwoman Nydia Velázquez. "We need to increase opportunity in rural areas, develop local resources, and sustain economic growth."

Many rural communities are coping with declining populations and wages, heightening the need for a comprehensive policy that creates new, more diverse economic opportunities. At the hearing, witnesses emphasized the need for high-quality economic growth. By creating an environment where small firms flourish, communities can maintain capital assets and create jobs that support rural families, including farmers.

These economic-development challenges are at the heart of the 2007 Farm Bill. It will address a wide range of issues -- such as rising energy costs, access to new markets, price supports and rural development -- that impact family farms and agribusinesses today.

Producers representing a variety of sectors within the industry discussed their priorities for the upcoming Farm Bill. Changes to the bill's commodity programs -- affecting the scope and size -- could have far-reaching effects on the competitiveness of farmers across the industry. Witnesses emphasized fruits and vegetables as potential new markets for small producers and, therefore, jobs and economic activity.

In addition to commodity programs, energy initiatives have assisted small producers, whose crops are fueling an expanding renewable energy sector. Small companies urged support for alternatives like cellulosic ethanol, and for infrastructure to further develop this booming industry where small businesses have taken the lead.

Infrastructure and other durable community resources may play a larger role in rural development discussions. Modifications to regulatory requirements, as well as the loans available in rural communities are a necessity to assisting small family farmers. These changes have the ability to create new opportunities and growth throughout rural America.

"In this year's Farm Bill, the stakes are high for small producers and agribusinesses, and it is critical that they are involved in this debate," Velázquez asserted. "Expanding markets and spurring opportunities for family farmers will help create a sustainable, prosperous future for rural areas nationwide."

The committee's assessment of the Farm Bill's impact on small producers is part of its ongoing work to promote economic development and entrepreneurship in rural America.

Last month, the committee passed the Small Energy Efficient Business Act of 2007, which offers assistance for the purchase and development of new energy technologies -- including biofuels -- through loans, education, and investment.

More than 20 agriculture trade organizations gathered at a recent Small Business Committee roundtable to discuss policies impacting small farmers and rural small businesses. The Subcommittee on Rural and Urban Entrepreneurship has also examined the ability of broadband to promote rural economic development.

To watch video highlights from today's Farm Bill hearing on YouTube, click here.

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Senators Kerry and Snowe Call on SEC to Give Small Firms More Time, Assistance to Comply with Sarbanes-Oxley

Just one day after House Small Business Committee Chairwoman Nydia Velázquez [D-N.Y.] urged Securities and Exchange Commission [SEC] officials to extend enforcement of Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 [see "House Committee Considers Impact of SOX Regulations on Small Business"], two prominent U.S. Senators weighed in, too.

Earlier today, Sens. John Kerry [D-Mass.] and Olympia J. Snowe [R-Maine] outlined specific steps the SEC should take to provide more time and assistance to small public companies to comply with Sarbanes-Oxley [SOX] internal control regulations.

Kerry and Snowe, as chairman and ranking member of the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, have been closely following the impact of SOX compliance on small public companies worth less than $75 million.

“Small public companies still face higher costs than large firms and deserve more time to comply with the recent changes to Sarbanes-Oxley," Kerry declared. "The regulations issued by the SEC last month are an important step, but I, again, strongly urge the SEC to give small public companies additional time to comply with Sarbanes-Oxley and to find additional ways to reduce their regulatory burden."

Sen. Snowe agreed. “We need to give America’s small businesses the necessary time and resources needed to successfully comply with these new regulations,” she noted. “By providing the proper tools -- such as an adequate extension, a full cost assessment, and a compliance guide to institute these regulations -- our nation’s small businesses will have what they need to effectively reduce their regulatory burden.”

At a committee hearing on April 18, and in several oversight letters, Kerry and Snowe called on the SEC and Public Company Accounting Oversight Board to give smaller firms up to a year extension to comply with the law and take additional steps to reduce the burdens small businesses face. Last month, the SEC issued final rules for firms to follow in complying with Section 404 of Sarbanes-Oxley, which sets management and accounting reporting standards.

In a letter to SEC Chairman Christopher Cox [pictured above], Kerry and Snowe requested:
* A reasonable extension for small public companies to comply with the newly issued regulations;
* A full assessment of the cost of the new rules under the Regulatory Flexibility Act before they become effective later this year;
* A small-business compliance guide, to be published by the SEC, that would assist small companies in implementing the new internal controls requirements; and
* A regular report by the SEC’s Advisory Committee on Smaller Public Companies on the impact of Section 404, as well as how the financial burden of compliance with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act may be reduced.

GoodBiz113's take: We appreciate the bipartisan efforts of U.S. Senate and U.S. House small business committee leaders to promote complete understanding of SOX regulations before the SEC institutes full compliance.

For information about what your company or not-for-profit organization needs to do in order to comply with SOX, check out the resources we've provided under "Relevant Goods."

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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

House Committee Considers Impact of New SOX Regulations on Small Business

Today, as Congress reconvened, chairmen of the Securities and Exchange Commission [SEC] and the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board [PCAOB] came before the House Small Business Committee to explain the impact of recently approved standards for complying with Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 [AKA SOX 404] on small public companies. Chairwoman Nydia Velázquez [D-N.Y.] reiterated her call for at least a yearlong delay in allowing time for small firms to comply.

"Before we set time frames, we need to know that these guidelines will work," Velázquez asserted. "I strongly urge the SEC to delay the implementation of these regulations, and to thoroughly test these guidelines to enable us to fully grasp the true impact on small businesses."

With concerns raised over the effect that SOX 404 will have on this nation's small businesses, Chairwoman Velázquez called for the SEC, prior to approving the new standards, to develop a "hard dollar" estimate demonstrating the costs of these regulations on small companies.

Committee members argued that more time is needed to determine whether or not these rules will actually reduce compliance costs. The requested delay would also enable small companies to train managers and auditors in best practices to ensure the regulations are implemented properly.

It was these same concerns that prompted Chairwoman Velázquez and Ranking Member Steve Chabot [R-Ohio, pictured above] to ask for additional time for small businesses to comply with SEC and PCAOB guidance in March. However, the current proposal fails to account for this original request.

"Though it has taken five years to come to these conclusions about implementing SOX 404 for small firms, we should not be too hasty in imposing these rules," said Chairwoman Velázquez. "This is not something that has been decided overnight, nor should it be thrown upon small companies overnight. The SEC needs to recognize the negative impacts that immediate implementation will have on small firms."

Though small businesses and lawmakers have rallied around the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 in an effort to prevent accounting fraud and rebuild shareholder trust in the wake of corporate scandals, some of its provisions have been applied in a way that disproportionately impacts smaller public companies.

For example, small firms would face increasing regulatory and paperwork burdens under the reporting requirements in Section 404 [SOX 404]. Many are paying a higher percentage of their revenues for legal and audit fees than their larger counterparts.

To compound the difficulties for entrepreneurs -- many of whom already operate on small margins -- a number have diverted resources from research and development to compliance, or returned to private ownership simply to avoid the regulation altogether. All of these consequences have a negative impact on competitiveness for small businesses and limits their ability to expand, and to create jobs.

"The reality here is that small businesses could be negatively impacted by these regulations," said Chairwoman Velázquez. "The writing is on the wall, and the SEC and PCAOB need to acknowledge that. Given the complexity of these regulations and the uncertainty that surrounds them, it is critical that small companies are not being rushed into implementing them."

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Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Sen. Kerry Expresses Posthumous Praise for Former Congressman Parren James Mitchell, Champion of Civil Rights and Minority Entrepreneurship

Yesterday, Sen. John Kerry [D-Mass.], chairman of the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, issued the following statement on the passing of former Congressman Parren James Mitchell [April 29, 1922-May 28, 2007], who died last week of complications from pneumonia:

“With the passing of Congressman Parren Mitchell, our country has lost one of its legendary advocates for minority business owners, a giant who knew that the struggle for civil rights and equal opportunity would be decided in America’s board rooms as well as its voting booths and lunch counters.

“Congressman Mitchell fought with heart, grit, integrity, and determination to level the playing field so more minority firms could do business with the federal government. He didn’t just serve as chairman of the House Small Business Committee, he served as Congress’s conscience.

"His life was an incredible story. From breaking racial barriers at the University of Maryland, to serving as chairman of Minority Business Enterprise Legal Defense and Education Fund, Parren Mitchell was a pioneer in the fight to ensure equal rights for minorities.

“In the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, we will honor his work and preserve his ideals by passing laws that continue to expand opportunity for all Americans who have been shut out or left behind.”

Sources: U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, Washington Post, Wikipedia [photo]

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