2012: A Year in Review

With the Holidays upon us, and 2012 drawing to a close, it is time once again to reflect upon another year of AEO achievements. AEO continues to lead the charge here in Washington, D.C., fighting for policies that support out nation’s underserved entrepreneurs and those that serve them. We achieved a lot despite the fact that the Congress was only in session for 28 weeks this year.

We kicked the year off with the introduction of long-overdue legislation that would expand growth opportunities for women owned microbusinesses across the country.  According to the National Women’s Business Council, there are 7.8 million women-owned businesses in the United States, and yet nine in ten of those businesses have annual revenues under $100,000.  The bipartisan legislation would enhance the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Women Owned Small Business Procurement Program by removing the dollar limits on allowable contracts for women-owned businesses. The removal of the caps was included in the FY13 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and we are fighting to make sure it becomes law.

To our dismay once again, the President’s Proposed FY2013 Budget proposed eliminating the SBA’s Program for Investment in Microentrepreneurs (PRIME) and reduced funding for the Microloan Program as well as Women’s Business Centers (WBCs), Small Business Development Centers, and a slew of microbusiness programs at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Undeterred, AEO’s members engaged their legislators, and we once again saved the PRIME program from elimination and increased funding for WBCs, Microloan Technical Assistance, and kept funding for the Microloan Program at last year’s level. The Treasury’s CDFI Fund would see it’s funding boosted in FY2013. These are truly victories for AEO.  As spring turned to summer turned to fall, the appropriations process once again went haywire. And it isn’t over yet: we are operating on a short-term “Continuing Resolution” through March 2013. But AEO’s members deserve a hard pat on the back. Your advocacy – the countless meetings, letters, calls, and emails you wrote – were vital to our efforts to save funding for our programs.

AEO is succeeding in changing the narrative with respect to entrepreneurship within the federal government. Under the mantra of “starting a business is job creation,” AEO was instrumental in passing legislation that boosted Self-Employment Assistance (SEA). SEA allows the unemployed to receive their unemployment benefits while starting a business. The new law directed the Department of Labor (DOL) to establish guidance for states to implement SEA and included $35 million for states to use to put the programs in place. AEO DOL to allow nonprofit microbusiness development organizations (MDO) to partner with state agencies in implementing a SEA program. Another pat on the back is in order.

 As temperatures began to warm up, so did the desire on Capitol Hill to pass a new jobs bill. And so it was. AEO pushed for the passage of the JOBS Act, which included provisions to make crowdfunding accessible to entrepreneurs and microbusinesses. Crowdfunding, the rules for which are still being implemented by the SEC, allows small businesses to raise up to $1 million dollars through online platforms (think Kiva) without having to comply with burdensome SEC regulations and securities filings.  

AEO celebrated another wildly successful Annual Conference in Washington, D.C this year. The White House’s Tina Tchen and Hallie Schneir, the SBA’s Deputy Administrator Marie Johns, the CDFI Fund’s Director Donna Gambrell, and the Treasury’s Don Graves (who also happens to be President Obama’s “jobs guy”) all spoke about the importance of microbusiness to our economy. What an impressive line-up! At the conference, AEO launched the One in Three Alliance and released the AEO 100 report, a showcase of the truly impressive Power of One in Three.  AEO’s Policy Team also released the Engage & Empower Advocacy Toolkit, a comprehensive how-to guide on effective advocacy for our members (although you’ve all shown yourselves to be excellent advocates!).

The message of the Power of One in Three continues to resonate with legislators and members of the Administration. This year, AEO once again co-sponsored Small Business Saturday, a national movement to encourage people to shop at locally owned small business on the Saturday following Thanksgiving. Senator Mary L. Landrieu (D-LA), Chair of the Senate Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship, specifically cited AEO’s “one in three” during remarks to celebrate Small Business Saturday.

Weighing on all of our minds is the pending Fiscal Cliff, and whether or not a deal can be struck between the Congress and the President. This fall, AEO engaged Congressional leadership urging that any plan they adopt maintain support for our nation’s entrepreneurs. AEO remains engaged with legislators and will keep you updated as the debate unfolds here in Washington over the remaining weeks of the year.

We continue to advocate for policies that support microbusineses and encourage entrepreneurship. Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA) has been a true microbusiness supporter and we remain committed to the passage of AEO’s Micro bill that Rep. Richmond introduced.  Likewise, one of AEO’s top priorities remains fixing the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) to encourage job training centers to provide entrepreneurship training. Legislation introduced by Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA) this summer would require DOL to issue new guidelines to its national network of job training centers on how to best provide that training.

As the year comes to a close, AEO says farewell to two of our Champions in the Congress. Senator Olympia J. Snowe (R-ME), Ranking Member of the Senate Small Business & Entrepreneurship Committee, will retire at the end of this year after decades of service in Congress. Congresswoman Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO) will leave Congress in February 2013 to take on a new role at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. Both were good friends of AEO and understood the collective power of Main Street USA to revitalize local economies and create jobs. They will be missed.

On the policy front, 2012 was a productive year for AEO. I suspect 2013 will be no less challenging, but AEO looks forward to continuing our work here in Washington and working with our Champions in Congress in the New Year. 

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