President Bush Tips Hat to Small Firms

Small business and entrepreneurs got a nod from President Bush on Wednesday when he acknowledged their contributions to the nation in a speech at the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce annual legislative conference in Washington.

In his speech, Bush heavily promoted the impending free trade agreement with Colombia and pushed for similar deals with Panama and South Korea. However, he also focused on small firms and the growing base of entrepreneurs among the Hispanic community.

"I really love the entrepreneurial spirit in all communities and it's evident in the Latino community," said Bush. "I got to see firsthand, as governor [of Texas], the unbelievable initiative and drive of Hispanics who lived in my state. And it's the same thing all across the country. And so part of the purpose for me to come is to thank you for your helping others realize the blessings of owning a small business; thanks for creating jobs; thanks for setting good examples; and thanks for being my friend."

According to the U.S. Census, there are nearly 27 million businesses in the United States and it's projected that by 2010, Hispanic-owned firms will represent one out of 10 businesses in the United States and generate more than $465 billion annually in revenue.

President Bush thanked the audience at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center for supporting the tax cuts plans instituted shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks because they had a "good effect on small businesses all across the United States during that period of time."

Bush acknowledged that the nation has "entered another period of difficult times," adding, "I know we're resilient. I know we're entrepreneurial. I know we'll withstand these times. I want to thank you for supporting the economic stimulus package that we passed, which provides strong incentives for small businesses to expand and will put money into the pockets of the people who earned it."

The president singled out Hector Barreto, the head of the Latino Coalition and former head of the Small Business Administration, calling him his "old buddy." Bush also acknowledged current SBA chief Steven Preston. Both men attended the speech.

"A federal contracting process is open to more small and minority- owned businesses, thanks to our SBA guys who have been running the show, Steve and Hector. And we'll continue that practice of making sure that there's fairness when it comes to federal contracting."

In an interview after the president's speech, Barreto told the Small Business Blog that he believes trade is an untapped area of growth for small firms: "When I was at SBA, the data showed that 97 percent of all exporters in the United States are small businesses...but they only represent 30 percent of all trade. Anything we can do to create more access and opportunities will benefit small business and our economy."

Barreto noted that his time at the SBA was bookended by 9/11 and hurricanes Katrina and Rita, making his tenure different than others and is proud of his accomplishments there related to lending, contracting and training.

He also commended Preston for the SBA chief's current work on agency infrastructure and internal operations.

By Sharon McLoone |  March 12, 2008; 4:16 PM ET Policymakers
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