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This week is National Small Business Week, a time when we recognize the small (and micro) businesses that make up the fabric of our country. While it’s certainly important to specifically celebrate them, every single day should be a celebration of small businesses because they are the lifeblood of our nation’s economy. To celebrate their contribution to the nation and the hard work of organizations that support them, I’m sharing my story of testifying before the members of the U.S. Senate. The legislative agenda around small business is critical, and I encourage every member of the micro and small business ecosystem to keep these businesses and programs like the SBA’s Microloan program at the forefront of the national conversation.

Last month, the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship held a hearing on the modernization and reauthorization of the SBA’s Microloan Program. As the only association leader to testify, I realized the unique opportunity I had to shed light on the needs of Main Street. In particular, my perspective is shaped by the active relationships that AEO has built with not only our members and partners, but the microbusinesses that work alongside us to champion the interests of Main Street.

Microbusinesses and small businesses are critical to America’s communities, as they represent over 90% of all businesses in the country. They have and continue to make up the backbone of this country’s economy. As these businesses grow, they bolster local economies by hiring in their communities. That’s why AEO seeks to create systemic change that can help these businesses grow. When they succeed, America succeeds. It was important to be part of the conversation around reauthorization of the SBA’s Access to Capital Programs as the Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship and Congress consider broad improvements to the Small Business Administration, a crucial component of the small and microbusiness landscape in America. 

One thing that spurred me to testify before the committee was AEO’s commitment to being the voice of innovation in microbusiness. AEO was involved in the early years of conceiving and launching the Microloan program. We helped to draft and pass the legislation that created the original five-year pilot program. The purpose of the program was to assist distinct populations that historically faced barriers in accessing capital– women, low-income, veteran, minority entrepreneurs—in order to give them the capability to operate successful businesses. As such, we have a responsibility to ensure that the program continues, improves its effectiveness, and adopts innovations where applicable.

Over the years, AEO has gained critical insights about the needs of microbusinesses and how to overcome the barriers that prevent their growth. I believe that sharing these insights is the first step to driving progress. Testifying before the Senate was a major step in ensuring that the key participants in the public discourse around access to capital for small businesses are informed and equipped to make decisions that can truly create systemic change. As AEO continues to integrate small businesses into our organizational culture, I have learned firsthand how effective these businesses can be when they have access to resources and opportunities that allow them to flourish. 

As we continue to move forward through Small Business Month and the rest of this year, I encourage you to find ways to build relationships with small businesses. They are doing amazing work, and they continue to be the bedrock of their local communities. Let’s talk the talk and walk the walk. Support these businesses.  

Connie