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Access To Small Business Capital Is The Key To Creating Jobs

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While much of the recent economic discourse has been focused on the precarious state of the Eurozone, here at home millions of Americans continue to grapple with the effects of a sluggish domestic economy. More than 12.5 million Americans are unemployed, many more are underemployed, and all struggling to make ends meet. Median household income in the U.S. continues to fall and data from the Federal Reserve shows a drastic decline in median household net worth following years of plummeting housing prices, a stalled stock market, and wages that have stagnated, at best. Putting people back to work must be the first step to spur a broader economic recovery and sow the seeds for lasting financial security.

Citi and the Citi Foundation believe that supporting entrepreneurship and the growth of small businesses in our communities is key to job creation. Small businesses have been pivotal to private sector growth in the U.S. for decades. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, small businesses employ half of all private-sector workers, contribute to more than half of non-farm GDP, and account for a whopping 65 percent of net new jobs created over the past 17 years. Stimulating the growth of small businesses can fuel job growth and contribute to vibrant communities.

Unfortunately, the National Small Business Association also notes that one in three small businesses report that they cannot get sufficient financing to grow. To launch, take root, and succeed, small business owners need access to growth capital, and Citi recognizes its special responsibility to provide these resources to bolster the economic growth of the communities in which we operate.

Last year, to make more capital available to U.S. small businesses, Citi announced a three-year commitment of $24 billion in lending -- $7 billion in 2011, $8 billion in 2012 and $9 billion in 2013 -- representing a significant increase in lending from $4.5 billion in 2009 and $6 billion in 2010. In 2011, we surpassed our $7 billion lending commitment by more than $900 million. And for businesses that may not qualify for traditional financing, the Citi Foundation, Citi Community Development, and Citi Community Capital have long been strong supporters of Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs), which provide loans to underserved
community businesses, including small businesses, microenterprises, nonprofit organizations, and affordable housing developers.

Over the past five years, Citi Community Capital has provided CDFIs with over $300 million in loans and investments, including $200 million to capitalize the Communities at Work Fund, launched by Citi in partnership with the Calvert Foundation and Opportunity Finance Network to help sustain and grow U.S. businesses, drive job creation and contribute to the economic recovery of underserved communities.

In addition, the Citi Foundation and Citi Community Development have provided millions of grant funding to support leading CDFIs. Of recent note, in mid-June, the Citi Foundation and Citi Community Development together made a $1 million contribution to the Create Jobs for USA program to reinforce our commitment to helping build strong communities, promote job growth, and support small businesses. We also made it possible for Citi ThankYou® Rewards members to redeem their ThankYou® Points to supplement our donation to the program, which provides capital grants to select CDFIs that are members of the Opportunity Finance Network.

The Citi Foundation further complements Citi's lending to small businesses by using our philanthropic dollars to support highly-effective non-profit organizations that provide financial assistance, entrepreneurial training, and counseling to small businesses owners to enhance their business skills, connect them to business opportunities, and create high-quality jobs in low- and moderate-income communities across the U.S. For example, in partnership with the Foundation for Small Business Development, the Citi Foundation and Citi Community Development are supporting the Partnership for Small Business Development to deliver a national "grow your business" training and certification program for minority- and women-owned business enterprises to enable them to successfully compete for more contracts from the government and the private sector, grow their business, and ultimately, create more jobs.

By leveraging innovative partnerships between the public, private and non-profit sectors, and making both financial resources and technical assistance available to small businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs, Citi and the Citi Foundation believe that we can foster job creation, grow our economy, and make a meaningful impact in local communities throughout America.

Pam Flaherty is the President & CEO of the Citi Foundation and Director of Corporate Citizenship at Citi.