On Monday the Obama administration teamed up with Rutgers Business School in Newark, N.J., for the first ever Urban Entrepreneurship Summit. The all-day brainstorming event united entrepreneurs, government officials, and private capital resources to find new ways to support job growth in America’s cities. Expanding on President Obama’s oft-repeated claim that the nation’s economic problems cannot be solved by government alone, the summit focused on building new public-private partnerships to spark urban job creation.
Although the event had a catch-all “urban” branding, there was a clear emphasis on African-American entrepreneurship with speakers including hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons, Black Enterprise editor-at-large Alfred Edmond Jr., Carol’s Daughter CEO Lisa Price, financial literacy activist and Operation Hope founder John Hope Bryant, political commentator Jeff Johnson, and media entrepreneur Quincy Jones III. Breakout sessions included discussions on the barriers facing urban entrepreneurs (including existing federal regulations that may be a hindrance), creative funding solutions such as a possible “Urban Entrepreneurship Fund,” existing public-private partnerships available to entrepreneurs in underserved areas, and personal narratives from business owners who have successfully grown their companies from the ground up.
“We are in an interesting time because, for all of the challenges that are working against us, we also find ourselves in a time of profound opportunity and tremendous possibility,” said Newark Mayor Cory Booker in the summit’s self-determination-focused opening remarks. “It’s not just going to happen by government. It comes down to us in our communities, families, neighborhoods, and the decisions we make to go after them.”
The cheerful summit came just days after a dismal jobs report (pdf), which showed a severe drop in private sector growth last month. For the second month in a row, the national unemployment rate edged up, to 9.1 percent, while the black unemployment continued its steady rise, hitting 16.2 percent. The Obama administration’s partial solution seems to be, through initiatives like today’s Urban Entrepreneurship Summit: new loan programs to help small businesses get started, and encouraging the private sector to invest more in small and medium-sized business across the country.
To reassure skeptics that the summit will be more than motivational lectures that nobody speaks of again after folks go home, the White House announced on Monday that Newark is taking a new step to boost urban entrepreneurship. The Institute for Entrepreneurial Leadership, a local non-profit that supports economic opportunities for inner city residents, says that the White House inspired them to negotiate a deal with a local building complex: they’ll be opening a small business center, offering low-cost office spaces and conference rooms, as well as training to aid business startup and accelerate growth.
Creating and supporting a new cadre of urban entrepreneurs around the country, as the solution for America’s jobs crisis, sounds incredibly ambitious. But it’s something to try, especially in the absence of a major plan to directly create jobs (and given the “Government can’t do it alone!” stance). In the face of the Republicans' unwavering trickle-down plan to keep cutting taxes for major corporations, at least it’s a more innovative idea. But will it work?
For his part, Mayor Booker seemed thoroughly convinced.
“We have to look at cities not as a problem, but as the solution,” he continued during his remarks. “We are here to create those partnerships and connections. We’re helping people to realize that we have all the resources we need, but we must now looks for those kind of economic breakthroughs.”