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Remarks by U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur L. Ross at the Minority Business Development Agency 50th Anniversary Celebration

AS PREPARED FOR DELIVERY

Thank you, Henry, for that kind introduction.

Fifty years: A lot of dedicated, passionate people have made it possible for the Minority Business Development Agency to achieve such a milestone. Congratulations! And thank you — to all the people who work in the small but mighty MBDA — for maintaining a five-decade tradition of excellence. Your service is needed now more than ever to assure the success and growth of minority-owned businesses throughout our nation.

Thank you, too, to the great Number 22, Emmitt Smith, for being here today. It is our honor to have you in our building to address this august gathering. You are a true American hero, both on and off the field, and a great mentor for so many aspiring entrepreneurs.

As it was when you suited up against the powerful NFC East — and as it is today — there was no stopping your “ground-and-pound,” your “running downhill,” style of play, even when you had the use of only one arm!

Also joining us is Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson of the House Science Committee.

I am so pleased that you are able to be here for this celebration. Thank you for hosting me in your office last week, Madam Chairwoman, discussing the important role for MBDA in the future of space commerce.

And I’m particularly pleased to note the special relationship you have both with Emmitt and — as the Representative from Dallas — the Cowboys, America’s team.

We are also more than honored to be in the company of a great American pioneer in business and society: the esteemed Bob Brown, a senior statesman: CEO and Founder of B&C International, the oldest minority-owned global business strategy consulting firm based in High Point, North Carolina.

1969 was an important year for all of us here. It was the year that President Richard Nixon and the American people agreed that the country needed a U.S. Minority Enterprise Program. And it was Dr. Brown who was instrumental in its establishment, and what we now call the MBDA. It was a year after wrenching racial unrest and the assassination of Dr. King, a close friend of Dr. Brown’s.

Working with President Nixon, Dr. Brown knew that the U.S. minority business community truly required national advocacy. Dr. Brown, MBDA has been housed here in the Commerce Department ever since. But it hasn’t been cloistered in this dignified Neoclassical government building.

The professional staff of MBDA have worked every day for 50 years with minority businesses throughout the country. When the agency was created, there were a scant 400,000 minority-owned businesses in the United States. Today, there are 11 million, up from four million in 2002.

When we look at minority employer firms, they generate $1.3 trillion in annual sales and have created more than 8.7 million jobs. That is a very big number, but with today’s fast-growing minority population, we need a lot more minorty firms that  can grow to size and scale.

Since the agency’s inception, it is estimated that MBDA has worked with more than 13 million minority firms in the United States.  And, in just the last five fiscal years, MBDA helped facilitate almost $29 billion in contracts and financing to minority enterprises, impacting 111,000 jobs.

One of the most promising avenues to individual prosperity and financial security is owning your own company. It is part of the American heritage and the American dream. And it is the reason so many aspiring people elsewhere in the world want to come to the United States: because it is relatively easy to start a business.

A great feature of the American society is we do not hold failure against anyone who tries. Every serial entrepreneur has had some failures, but they are outweighed by the subsequent successes. Most business start-ups consist of just one or two people initially, and they ramp up from there. With the advent of eCommerce and social media, it is easier than ever before for new companies to gain the attention of large numbers of customers.

Minorities have an advantage of understanding the needs of many niche markets, both in the United States and overseas. Minority-owned businesses are twice as likely to export their products to foreign markets as non-minority businesses because of the commonality they have with the cultures and languages of other countries. This is a significant advantage because less than 3 percent of all American businesses ever export anything, even though the vast majority of the world’s consumers are outside the United States.

We are eliminating barriers and opening avenues to make it possible for Americans from every walk of life to start a business, and grow it into a profitable enterprise.

We have no choice.

Our future depends on the success of our private sector, from mom-and-pop shops to multi-billion-dollar enterprises.

Small and medium-sized businesses create most of the new jobs in the country.  It is why we must encourage young people to embrace the idea of being a business owner, a capitalist, an entrepreneur, a maker, and an executive — somebody who can “execute.”

Success requires disciplined thinking, and learning. It requires persistence, and grit. It requires seeking help and expertise, building a team, and getting support. It requires role models — true role models — of people who Can’t Go Wrong by Doing Right, which happens to be the title of Dr. Brown’s newly published autobiography. I wish it could be read by every potential entrepreneur in the country.

And success requires courage.

It is mentors like all of you here today who can bestow courage upon individuals who are considering taking the leap of starting a business, or starting a career.

People need a nudge.

They need to be told that they can do it.

They need to hear that you have faith in them.

In many cases, that’s all it takes to change a person’s life.

Please take that as your charge.

Ours is a nation of risk takers. It always has been, and always will be. We must have the courage to take risks, to fail, and to get back up and dust ourselves off, and try again.

Just as Emmitt did hundreds and hundreds of times in sheer pain on his way to two consecutive Super Bowls in the 1990s, and as he has done with multiple businesses. Just as Dr. Brown has experienced with innumerable enterprises.

It is also the story of the minority population of America. Our great, young, diverse population must be encouraged by mentors like you not to fear failure, but to try, and to try again.

Mentors like you can help fledgling entrepreneurs by guiding them to think through their business plans and to minimize self-inflicted problems.

Well-grounded mentoring is a combination of cheerleading and substantive advice. During my own career, I needed and was fortunate enough to receive both on multiple occasions. It is incumbent that we all fill that role.

Thank you, and congratulations to everyone on this truly auspicious occasion.

 

Leadership