BY JYOTHSNA HEGDE
Atlanta, GA, January 29, 2024: “The President, Joe Biden, feels very strongly about ensuring equity in getting funding into our communities. The loan dollars towards AAPI-owned businesses totaled about $6.4 billion. Just for perspective – over the first few years of the term, we have increased funding by 36%,” Dilawar Syed, Deputy Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration, told NRI Pulse in an exclusive interview. Syed was in Atlanta to headline The White House Initiative’s AA and NHPI (WHIAANHPI) Economic Summit series.
Senior federal officials connected with local community members and Georgia small businesses, providing critical resources and opportunities at the Economic Summit held at the Gas South District Convention on January 10, 2024. The summit, hosted by President Biden’s White House Initiative on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders, aimed to connect Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AA and NHPI) communities. The event highlighted President Biden’s Investing in America agenda, focusing on small businesses, strengthening U.S. supply chains, creating good-paying jobs, and expanding economic opportunity across America. Representatives from federal agencies shared ways to effectively apply for federal procurement, jobs, grants, and programs—matching other summits held in Philadelphia, Chicago, Seattle, New York City, and Honolulu. The event provided the opportunity for attendees to connect directly with senior Biden-Harris Administration officials and leaders.
The summit, the sixth in a series of regional economic summits launched by the Biden-Harris Administration in January 2023, was held in partnership with the U.S. Small Business Administration, U.S. Department of the Treasury, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization, U.S. Department of Energy, the National Asian / Pacific Islander American Chamber of Commerce & Entrepreneurship (National ACE), and local leaders.
The summit kicked off with opening remarks by Senior White House officials, including Ambassador Katherine Tai, United States Trade Representative and WHIAANHPI Co-Chair, Dilawar Syed, Deputy Administrator at the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), the highest-ranking Asian American official at SBA, Erika L. Moritsugu, Deputy Assistant to the President and Senior Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Liaison, The White House, and Krystal Ka‘ai, Executive Director, White House Initiative on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders and President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders, Ryan K. Buchanan, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, United States Attorney’s Office, Antrell Tyson, Region 4 Director, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, John Park, Mayor of Brookhaven, Georgia, and video Remarks from U.S. Senator Reverend Raphael Warnock.
“From day one, our Administration has been laser-focused on partnering with and advocating for Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander workers, entrepreneurs, and businesses,” Ambassador Tai remarked. “That is because President Biden and Vice President Harris understand how important our communities are to growing and driving our economy forward, from the bottom up and the middle out. Through the Economic Summits, we will continue to write the next chapter in our American story together—one of resilience and collective strength.”
“In this extraordinary moment for our country, it’s important we harness AA and NHPI innovation and entrepreneurship to drive our nation forward,” Deputy Syed noted. “AA and NHPI entrepreneurs have been an important part of the small business boom in Georgia and across America. The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to ensuring entrepreneurs in all our communities have the resources they need to succeed.”
“Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders were devastated by the disproportionate economic impacts of the pandemic, and we saw how this impacted families, workers, and businesses here in the metro Atlanta area,” Ka‘ai said. “Today, we are making good on the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to expand economic opportunity and provide the tools community members need to recover and thrive. Because AA and NHPI small businesses are the backbone of our economy. And when they succeed, we all prosper. …You don’t have to fly all the way to Washington, D.C., to engage with the federal government. We are right here in your own backyard.”
“It is our honor to ensure that the government’s resources are reaching those who need it the most. Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander small business owners continue to face many challenges, from access to capital and contracts to equity,” Chiling Tong, National ACE’s President and CEO said. “We firmly believe in the power of cross-sector and community collaboration to address these barriers and foster safety, prosperity, and opportunity for the AA and NHPI community in Atlanta and across the country.”
In a fireside chat moderated by Sameera Fazili, former Deputy Director of the National Economic Council, Ambassador Tai highlighted the administration’s efforts towards trade policy, economic growth, and policy changes. “The trajectory of our trade policies to make clear that trade can be done in a way that supports our workers here at home, but also the small businesses and the medium businesses,” she said.
In 2022, Georgia’s top ten trading partners included China, Mexico, Germany, Canada, South Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Singapore, India, and Thailand. Tai noted the state’s reach to Asia reflects a very special mix of industries and expertise here.
Rising inflation continues to be one of the biggest challenges for small business owners. Inflation disproportionately impacts small businesses, which have less leverage when it comes to buying power compared to their larger competitors. The US Chamber reported in June 2023 that for the sixth consecutive quarter, inflation topped the list of challenges for small business owners, with more than half (54%) listing it as an issue.
Deputy Syed said he understands the issue given his background as an entrepreneur. But, the reality, he said, was that “inflation has been coming down. We are on track to get to what the Fed considers to be an optimal inflation of 2%, hopefully in this year, and so the President is very focused on it.”
Syed noted that the administration is equally concerned about inflation affecting everyone, and all efforts are being made to address the issue, citing the gas price drop as an example. “In the majority of the country, gas is under three dollars. And that happened pretty quickly over the past few months.”
In 2023, SBA backed 7,500 loans to AAPI-owned businesses, totaling more than $6.4 billion. Total loans are up 44% under the Biden-Harris Administration, and total loan dollars are up 36%.
In response to the administration’s efforts to help AAPI business owners specifically, Deputy Syed said the President feels very strongly about ensuring there is equity in getting funding into AAPI communities. “The loan dollars towards AAPI-owned businesses totaled about $6.4 billion. Just for perspective – over the first few years of the term, we have increased funding by 36%. That is significant.” He also urged small business owners to look into what local SBAs have to offer at www.sba.gov, go to SBA-backed lenders and banks such as Wells Fargo that offer SBA loans.
Deputy Syed also highlighted the streamlining efforts geared towards easy access and reduced paperwork. In response to the growing interest rates, Deputy Syed said, SBA loans, particularly longer-term loans with fixed rates, are available and at lower interest rates than the market rates.
The event also featured a Small Business Track with interactive breakout sessions featuring speakers that discussed opportunities available to small businesses regarding access to federal contracting, business capital, counseling, and education.
Business Track 1 highlighting Accessing Opportunities in Federal Contracting, moderated by Terri Denison, Georgia District Director, U.S. Small Business Administration, included panelists Arielle Douglas, Deputy Director, Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Nancy Cleveland, Program Manager, Georgia Tech APEX Accelerator, Prashanthi Reddy, President & CEO, Accura Engineering and Consulting Services, Inc., Paula Mensah, Procurement Analyst, Small Business and Advocacy Division, U.S. General Services Administration, and Alicia Vogel, Procurement Center Representative, U.S. Small Business Administration.
Business Track 2 focused on Access to Business Capital, Counseling, and Education. During the interactive session, speakers discussed opportunities to access capital and support businesses. The track was moderated by Jeffrey Patterson, SBA Supervisory LRS/EDS and Glenn Kruse, Director, Gwinnett Small Business Development Center, with panelists Kim Tong, VP, SBA Sr. Business Development Officer, Bank of America, Victor Tan, SCORE Mentor, Huong Vo, Controller, Access to Capital for Entrepreneurs Inc. (ACE), Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), and Holly Hunt, Georgia Department of Community Affairs, SSBCI and GARJA Program Manager.
Along with several interesting programs, Tong spoke about Bank of America’s Small Business Down Payment Grant Program to Drive Women and Minority Business Growth. The new Special Purpose Credit Program offers down payment grants for SBA 504 and 7(a) commercial real estate loans for women and minority business owners in Atlanta, Chicago, Charlotte, Dallas, and Los Angeles. “Our goal is to show how we can help those specific areas with getting generational wealth by finding your property that you can buy for your business. But we actually plan to expand that in other markets. So in the next quarter, we’re looking to achieve another 11 markets and then ideally, it will go national.”
Community Track 1, the Federal Agency Panel with a focus on Strengthening Impact Through Federal, Local, and Community Collaborations, featured a panel conversation with dynamic federal leaders across government highlighting how collaboration across sectors and communities has been an essential and powerful tool to advance equity, justice, and opportunity for AA and NHPI communities. This conversation introduced and connected attendees with federal government representatives, resources, and valuable information to help them better support their organizations and communities. The track was moderated by Viviane Chao, Assistant Deputy Director, Management, Operations, Communication and Policy, Office of the Director, Global Health Center, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with panelists Juan Coria, Regional Administrator, Southeast Region, Department of Labor, Shea Johnson, Georgia Field Office Director, Office of Field Policy and Management, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Justin Lock, Acting Director, Community Relations Service, Department of Justice, Lisa Sessions, Health Insurance Specialist, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Department of Health and Human Services, and Luke Anh Nguyen, Data Dissemination Specialist, Data Dissemination and Training Branch, Customer Liaison & Marketing Services Office, U.S. Census Bureau.
Community Track 2 highlighted a Community-Driven Listening Session on Economic Development and Resiliency in AA and NHPI Communities. In this session, community leaders and members had the opportunity to ask questions, share their concerns, offer recommendations, and have the chance to meet federal agency representatives from the previous session, in addition to other agency representatives that will be in the room. The track was facilitated by Victoria Huynh, Founder and Community Organizer, Georgia AAPI Hub; Commissioner, President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders Federal Agencies, White House Initiative on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders, Small Business Administration, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
White House Initiative AA and NHPI Economic Summit Series: The White House Initiative’s AA and NHPI Economic Summit series, spurred by a May 2022 recommendation from the President’s Advisory Commission on AA and NHPIs, builds on the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to empowering underserved communities by connecting them directly with federal leaders and resources. It also comes on the heels of the release of the Administration’s first-ever national strategy to advance equity and opportunity for AA and NHPI communities, which outlines agency commitments to strengthen capacity building over the next two years.
Language barriers and limited outreach have historically held AA and NHPIs back from applying for federal procurement, jobs, grants, and programs. Although approximately 10 percent of small businesses in the U.S. are AA and NHPI-owned, only 2.8 percent of federal contracting dollars went to AA and NHPI small businesses in Fiscal Year 2020, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Through the American Rescue Plan, Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, Inflation Reduction Act, and other initiatives, the Biden-Harris Administration is making once-in-a-generation investments to address these issues, provide direct relief, and expand economic opportunity.
In May 2021, President Joe Biden re-established WHIAANHPI through Executive Order 14031. The Initiative’s whole-of-government approach engages federal agencies to improve interagency policymaking, program development, and outreach, and address barriers impacting AA and NHPIs across the country.
In January 2023, WHIAANHPI launched its AA and NHPI economic summit series following the release of the Biden-Harris Administration’s first-ever national strategy to advance equity and opportunity for AA and NHPI communities, which outlines agency commitments to strengthen capacity building over the next two years. On Feb. 16, 2023, President Biden also signed an Executive Order to strengthen the federal government’s equity mandate and formalize his goal of increasing the share of federal contracting dollars awarded to Small Disadvantaged Businesses by 50% by 2025.