When we look at Forward Cities' focus on inclusive innovation, and its place in Cleveland’s emergence, we recognize the key part small businesses play in making Cleveland’s, as well as America’s, vision a reality.
 
Small businesses have been the cornerstones of our local communities and aid in economic strength and recovery. Families lived over them. Children got their first summer jobs from them. Little League teams were sponsored by them. Further, they create two out of every three jobs in the U.S. and half of all working Americans own or work for a small business. That says a lot.
 
For seven years now, we have been working to recover from the financial crisis and credit freeze, which took a toll on this sector and our communities. And, the faces of entrepreneurship have been changing with more belonging to women, Latinos, African Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans, immigrants, veterans and seniors. These diverse businesses add economic value because they meet the needs of the changing population.   However, many run into barriers during startup and struggle with sustainability. Initiatives like Forward Cities and the U.S. Small Business Administration’s efforts are working to change that and build new economic pathways that can potentially lift whole communities and empower talent.
 
Capital is vital to small business success and through the years the SBA’s lending support has helped businesses like Great Lakes BrewingMitchell’s Ice Cream and the Women's Business Center, all featured in the Forward Cities Cleveland program, grow and succeed. In fiscal year 2015, we supported $33 billion in loans, which is a more than 15 percent increase from 2014. This record level of lending supported nearly 730,000 jobs and illustrates America’s small businesses are yearning to grow. In the Great Lakes region, which covers six states and includes two Forward Cities – Detroit and Cleveland – we supported $5.3 billion in loans. More importantly, capital got out the door to those that need it most, including women and other underrepresented groups.
 
Along with access to capital, the SBA continues to tailor our programs to embrace the nation’s dynamic demographics and promote job growth, capital investment and economic development. In just the last year, we automated lending processes with tools such as the LINC platform that matches borrowers and lenders, waived fees on small dollar loans, introduced in-language materials in Spanish and for the deaf/hard of hearing, launched a Startup in a Day initiative, and supported acceleratorswith grants.
 
Our inclusive efforts continue to reach those changing the face of entrepreneurship via our network of more than 1,100 counseling centers and targeted initiatives. Our Boots to Business | Reboot and Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship is expanding veteran training. Our partnership with the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce is encouraging the LGBT community to pursue entrepreneurship. Further, ourBusiness Smart Toolkit is providing a foundation for community and faith-based leaders, as well as small non-profits, to help their constituents start a business.
 
We also are working to unlock opportunities by encouraging small businesses to seek growth in new areas – specifically in federal contracting and exporting, as 95 percent of consumers live outside America’s borders. In FY15, small businesses received more than one quarter of the federal government’s contracts. That amounts to nearly $91 billion, which supports 540,000 jobs. We doubled our goal for contracts to disadvantaged small businesses and broke our record for contracts awarded to businesses owned by service-disabled veterans and women. And, through our State Trade and Export Promotion grants and our trade counseling, small businesses are learning how to tap into the global marketplace.
 
The SBA reached 1.1 million clients last year with online and in-person advising and mentoring. That’s quite impressive, I think and speaks to our efforts beyond providing capital, with our 10 regional and 68 district offices, including in Cleveland and Detroit, working diligently to assure opportunities and success for America’s small businesses.
 
We know that by embracing an inclusive vision of entrepreneurship – one that draws from all demographics and backgrounds and is based on hard work and perseverance – we’ll grow our economy, create good jobs, be more globally competitive, and continue our record-breaking trends.  I look forward to working with Forward Cities' leaders, donors and entrepreneurs, and witnessing the job creation, economic growth, globalization and true small business success in the Great Lakes region and beyond, as well as leveraging these collaborative and inclusive efforts nationwide.