Conference Brings Together Local Business Owners: Small shops are taking steps to help us out of economic doldrums

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By Charles Rangel I was pleased last month to convene an important and exciting conference that brought together uptown business owners with representatives of Washington federal agencies. The purpose of the event was to provide useful information on everything from writing effective business plans to competing for government contracts. More than 250 small business owners representing many different sectors and sizes packed the April 10 sessions, which provided them with a unique opportunity to not only hear but network with highlevel representatives of federal agencies. More than 150 participants took part in smaller breakout sessions that covered critical topics, including accessing capital and government contracting. Karen Mills, administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration, lauded those in attendance as "the backbone of our economy and America's greatest strength." I couldn't agree more. David Hinson, director of the Commerce Department's Minority Business Development Agency, and his staff provided detailed information about accessing alternative sources of financing and growing client bases. I thank them all. I also commend my friends in the leadership of the uptown business community: Walter Edwards, president of the Harlem Business Alliance, Lloyd Williams, president of the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce, and Ken Knuckles, president of the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone. Their contributions made the conference possible. For those with the entrepreneurial spirit, this is a critical time of challenge and opportunity, particularly for small businesses. President Barack Obama often speaks of the vital role of the private sector in growing the economy and creating jobs. The boutiques, restaurants and retail establishments of all kinds that are proliferating in our community are a part of that movement. They are making the baby steps that soon will help walk the country out of the economic doldrums. That is why the president is pushing for initiatives that will help small business owners and entrepreneurs to grow. My recent business conference was a way of bringing home the president's message, while making available to our entrepreneurs some of the tools and resources needed to expand their businesses or start new ones. Democrats in Congress are fighting intense Republican opposition to our efforts to strengthen the nation's economy. Briefly, our proposals would provide incentives to invest in business, to ease access to capital, and reward companies that create more jobs in this country. At the same time, we must beat back Republican efforts to cut Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and education while showering millionaires with more massive tax cuts. As former chairman and now the most senior member of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, I've been involved in similar struggles. At the beginning of his presidency, I helped President Obama to enact the historic health care law and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act-the so-called Stimulus Act-which saved the economy from total collapse. The law also reduced payroll taxes for middle- class people and extended unemployment benefits for jobless workers. These benefits, along with the Earned Income Tax Credit-which I had earlier spearheaded to enactment-are among the most important federal government safety nets deployed during the recession. Even during these difficult times, it is impossible to miss the positive changes that have transformed the appearance of our congressional district. The 125th Street corridor is bustling like never before; scores of new retail establishments, restaurants and a major new hotel have enlivened the area and made Harlem a residential and tourist destination. Much of the credit for the renaissance should go to the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone, the economic development and jobs project which I authored and spearheaded to enactment in the 1990s. Upper Manhattan was selected as the site of one of the local projects, armed with $300 million of federal, city, state and private funding. I give all credit to the Zone and the many leaders of the community, academia and private sectors who have contributed to its work, itsleadership and imagination. The Empowerment Zone is responsible for creation of at least 9,000 jobs in Upper Manhattan. And more than any other single institution, it has encouraged national retailers and small entrepreneurs to take a chance on Upper Manhattan. As you may know by now, our congressional district has been extended into a portion of the South Bronx and renamed the 13th Congressional District. I am running for reelection to represent my old and new constituents in the U.S. House of Representatives. I truly believe I can continue to help President Obama while improving the lives of my constituents in the newly drawn congressional district better than anyone else. Congressman Charles Rangel represents the 13th Congressional District including part of the Upper West Side.

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