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Winning the Future with Small Businesses in Cleveland

Not even freezing weather could dampen this great city and its vibrant, innovative business community, and “The Comeback City” opened its doors to share with us their stories of hard work and success at last the Winning the Future Forum on Small Business.

Cleveland rocks.  Not even freezing weather could dampen this great city and its vibrant, innovative business community, and “The Comeback City” opened its doors to share with us their stories of hard work and success at last Tuesday’s Winning the Future Forum on Small Business. 

We came to Cleveland with President Obama to hear directly from small businesses, and to share how we can work together to build more success stories, one business and one job at a time. 

As the President said in his opening remarks, small businesses generate two of every three new jobs in our economy.  The President guided the forum with one of the key question this Administration asks business leaders: “How can America help you succeed, so that you can help America succeed?"  

Following his opening remarks, we broke up into working sessions. 

The working sessions covered the bases for out-educating, out-innovating, and out-selling our competitors to win the future.  Twenty to thirty members of the small business community in Northeast Ohio participated in each session, as did top federal officials working each area:

  • Workforce Development, led by Labor Secretary Hilda Solis;
  • Clean Energy, led by Energy Secretary Steven Chu;
  • Entrepreneurship, led by Administrator Karen Mills (which President Obama attended);
  • Access to Capital and Tax Breaks for Small Businesses, led by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner (which President Obama attended);
  • and Exports, led by Commerce Secretary Gary Locke.

In the sessions, local small business leaders made clear that in some areas the government needs to step back, and in other areas it needs to step forward.  As Small Business Administrator Karen Mills said in the discussion on Entrepreneurship, we’re not looking to create a bigger or smaller government, but a smarter government.

Some great stories came out of the working sessions, as well, stories that show we’re on the right track, even as much work remains to be done. 

Older small businesses are remaining agile: Ronald Rasmus, owner of the 112-year-old Great Lakes Towing Co., said that on the strength of the Made-In-USA brand he was able to sell his first tugboat outside this country.  And Joe Miceli, owner of Miceli Dairy Products, said he just received a $5.5 million loan from the SBA’s 504 program to add a new plant, 60 more workers, and two more flavors of cheese: mozzarella and provolone.  “I want samples,” said President Obama.

At the same time, young businesses are hitting their growth spurts:  Kent Displays recently received SBA support to commercialize publicly funded research.  The company makes flexible liquid crystal displays in a state-of-the-art production line in Kent—the first of the kind in the world.  As founder Dr. Albert Green said, “We’re turning the tables, manufacturing a high-tech product right here in Ohio and selling it in the United States and selling it abroad.”  Dr. Green just about doubled his staff last year and is keeping his business in Ohio.  Another success was Ashlawn Energy, which is using the Department of Energy’s Smart Grid Program to create an energy storage system in Painesville, Ohio.  Holding electricity produced when demand is low to resell it when demand is high will help reduce energy waste and pollution, and save money.

The successes and suggestions from Northeastern Ohio just begin to tell the story of small businesses in America. 

The President wants to create opportunities for growth in every corner of this country, and so he stepped aside for part of the afternoon to attend a simultaneous web-based forum.  He and Austan Goolsbee, Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors, took questions from small business leaders across the nation

We want the Winning the Future Forum on Small Business to benefit not just the small businesses in attendance, but all of their customers and communities, and all of the other small businesses across the country with similar experiences. 

So here’s some of the information that we shared at the forum and also want to share with you:

We were thrilled with the quality of the dialogue and encouraged by what we heard at the Forum. 

We want to thank our partner sponsors on the ground, too, including our host Cleveland State University, and the business development organizations JumpStart and NorTech. 

The President closed the Winning the Future Forum on Small Business with a reminder that this is only the beginning.  We came to Cleveland to listen to new ideas, to inspire new policies and programs.  We want to champion the programs that work, and cut the ones that don’t. 

As the President said, we’re going to bat for American business, at home and around the world, and we’re in this game to win.

Greg Nelson is the Deputy Director of the Office of Public Engagement.