THE BLOG
05/21/2013 12:31 pm ET Updated Jul 21, 2013

America's Small and Minority Businesses: A Global Relationship Deficit

At the end of last year, I had a chance to interact with a group of Chinese investors and entrepreneurs who were touring American cities in search of business and investment opportunities. Their collective investment potential was in the billions and they met with a number of U.S. companies and cities that were seeking investment in interests that ranged from real estate and energy to healthcare and entertainment. Coordinated by a private investment firm, the group visited cities such as Dallas, Orlando, Portland and New York City. Former president George W. Bush hosted them in Texas while Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Governor Rick Perry of Texas and Florida governor Rick Scott all rolled out the red carpet. I met with the group in Washington, D.C at a reception hosted by the Department of State. While such investment missions aren't uncommon, we need more foreign investors to build relationships and explore ventures with small and minority-owned enterprise, the major job creators in America.

It's no secret that Chinese firms are aggressively securing overseas resources, buying up real estate and investing in high growth sectors like energy around the world. Like America, they know that the development of clean energy and energy efficiency technologies can fundamentally change the way the world uses energy and could spur one of the greatest economic opportunities of the 21st century. And this could mean a new wave of job creation in the business that brings these discoveries to the market and in the communities where they operate.

Small and minority-owned businesses in America can't afford to sit on the sidelines and be silent onlookers while wealthy Chinese companies invest in energy and natural resources in developing countries in Africa, the Caribbean and other parts of the globe. If small and minority-owned firms want to stay viable in an increasingly connected global economy, they must fight for a seat at the foreign investment table and look to China and other countries as potential sources for funding and financing. That's why the U.S. Department of Commerce's Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) has made global trade a foremost priority, arguing that some minority businesses are twice as likely to export to other countries than non-minority firms due to their cultural ties, language skills and nimbleness. That's why in 2010, National Urban League president and CEO Marc Morial, through the China-United States Exchange Foundation, led a delegation of African American leaders to China with hopes of developing mutually beneficial business and cultural ties. The delegation was successful in getting the Chinese to commit to establishing a Confucius Institute at Xavier University in New Orleans and an education-cultural exchange program between Chinese and African American students and teachers in urban communities.

Although the economy is slowly recovering, it will take even longer for the recovery to reach those small and minority-owned firms hardest hit by the financial crisis. Significant capital infusion is a must if small and minority entrepreneurs are to help build innovative, high growth companies and create good, high paying jobs across all communities.

While doing business with China and other countries can be rewarding, the process can also be challenging, drawn-out and uncertain. Developing the kind of global relationships that lead to business success can be costly and out of reach for most small and minority-owned companies. Many of them can't compete on the international stage; most can't even get in the game. They are disconnected from the world economy and are missing significant opportunities to grow their businesses abroad, while creating jobs right here at home.

There is simply no better vehicle for job creation in America than small and minority-owned businesses. Over the last three decades, start-up firms have accounted for nearly all increased employment in the private sector. Minority-owned businesses are some of the fastest growing segments of our economy, with Hispanic-owned small businesses leading the pack. Even in difficult economic times aspiring entrepreneurs and innovators have provided a path forward to recovery.

The bottom line is that we must ensure that small and minority-owned businesses not only have a sufficient understanding of international trade, but also access to the personal and professional networks needed to successfully do business abroad. To his credit, President Obama has long promoted entrepreneurship as a critical component of the nation's economic growth strategy and has sought to create an environment conducive for the global competitiveness of our small and minority-owned firms. His Administration gets high marks for working to free up access to credit; increasing guarantees on Small Business Administration and Export-Import Bank loans; spurring innovation by investing in more research, science and technology; and opening new markets abroad for the export of American goods and services to the 95 percent of consumers who live outside our borders.

China's outward investment could be more than $2 trillion over the next decade, according to a study by the Asia Society and the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars. Even with increasing overseas investment, investing in the United States is still fairly new to many Chinese businessmen. Targeted, direct investment in America's small and minority-owned businesses would certainly be a novel idea.

While many of the Chinese investors who toured the United States last year were rightfully interested in big profits from their U.S. deals, one leading businessmen was very encouraging on another front. His primary goal is to invest heavily in America's small and medium size Chinese-owned enterprises. That's precisely how we close the global relationship deficit facing small and minority-owned firms. The returns on these investments can be great, but the opportunity to create good jobs and improve the quality of life in our struggling urban communities can be even greater.

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