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Remarks by Commerce Secretary Wilbur L. Ross at MBDA’s 2020 Minority Enterprise Development Week

AS PREPARED FOR DELIVERY

It is my pleasure to participate in this year’s Minority Enterprise Development Week. This is the 35th year this conference has been held, and I congratulate the entire staff at MBDA for the hard work in making this year’s event more important than ever before.

Minority and women-owned companies are essential to the economic health of our nation. We commend all of you for persevering through one of the most difficult periods in American history. Your businesses employ six million Americans. You contribute $1.8 trillion to the U.S. economy. You are doing the work of the nation. Thank you. We will continue to do everything we can to help you succeed.

Although this year’s event is virtual, there are some benefits to having a nation-wide broadcast. Many more minority businesses can tune in and learn from the sterling group of executives and experts on each day’s program.

The “How I Did It” series running all of this week is truly excellent. Minority and women speakers from the private sector will be sharing what they have learned to build successful companies that fill niches, hire workers, and generate the wealth needed for a modern society. As our nation recovers from the pandemic, we will depend even more on the innovative and resilient spirit of minority businesses operating from coast to coast.  

Just prior to the shutdowns earlier this year, our minority businesses were thriving. The unemployment rates for minorities and women were at their lowest point in recorded history. The last time the U.S. unemployment rate had dropped to 3.5 percent was in 1969.

Today, we are engaged in a massive rebuilding of the U.S. economy. There are extensive resources being dedicated to developing a vaccine, and to installing the equipment needed to produce it on a massive scale.

When the pandemic ends – and it will end – there will be pent-up demand for thousands of products and services. The travel and hospitality industries will once again flourish, as people finally have an opportunity to visit loved ones, and as company reps get back on the road to meet with employees and customers throughout the country, and the world.

One very positive, though overlooked, economic indicator is the U.S. savings rate. In July, it stood at almost 18 percent, with Americans saving $3.2 trillion on an annualized basis. During the early months of the pandemic, the U.S. savings rate soared to 34 percent.

Once Americans feel more confident about the economy, some of those savings are going to be spent. I truly believe that businesses will flourish as never before. It happened after the 1918 pandemic, and I don’t see why it wouldn’t happen again after the 2020 pandemic. We will continue with our effort to reduce the regulations that make it so hard for you expand and grow.

We are supporting the Opportunity Zones initiative that provides companies with lucrative tax breaks to invest in under-developed communities. There are now nearly 9,000 communities in the country designated as Opportunity Zones, and many of the residents of those communities are minorities. According to a recent report by the Council of Economic Advisors, by the end of last year, $75 billion had been invested in Qualified Opportunity Funds. $52 billion of that amount would not have been invested without the Opportunity Zones initiative.

During the COVID-19 response, the Minority Business Development Agency has allocated $10 million in CARES Act funds to its Business Centers and to national minority chambers of commerce throughout the country. These centers and chambers are providing minority enterprises with resources during these challenging times.

Later this week, MBDA will honor a select group of minority businesses and their advocates with National MED Week awards. The award winners will be featured in an innovative  “How I Did It” series of videos.

You will also have the chance to hear from Kimberly Reed, President and Chairman of the Export-Import Bank. MBDA and the EXIM Bank signed an important memorandum of understanding last week to provide funding to minority-owned companies for them to engage in global markets.

And this year, for the first time ever, MBDA has created a Buy from a Minority Business Enterprise Day as an awareness campaign to encourage consumers to patronize minority businesses. The first annual Buy MBE Day will be this Saturday, September 19th.  I encourage everyone to promote this day among friends, family, and colleagues, and to help get it established in the minds of millions of American shoppers. Even more important, I hope that you go out and support your local minority and women-owned enterprises. MBDA Business Centers located throughout the country can help direct you to minority-owned firms in your area.  I, too, look forward to participating in this inaugural occasion, though I’m not sure what I’m going to buy yet!

Again, thank you, for tuning in to this year’s Minority Enterprise Development Week. Supporting the country’s minority-owned companies is more important now than ever before. We are extremely proud of all of you, and the role you play as a vital pillar of our nation’s economy. Thank you.

Leadership