Minority-owned businesses critical to rural America <br>

America needs minority-owned businesses. They bring the business world full circle.

Latest census data revealed that there are more than three million minority-owned enterprises in America, employing 4.5 million people, and generating revenues of $591.3 billion. Additionally, minority-owned firms have grown more than four times faster than U.S. firms overall. This affirms the success of these businesses and the great strides that have been made toward equality in the commerce arena.

Minority business entrepreneurs are hard working, intelligent men and women of African-American, Hispanic, Asian and Pacific Islander, American Indian and Alaska Native descent who have persevered and earned their place in a highly competitive business venue. Many have broken down barriers of discrimination and injustice in order to achieve their stature and have laid the groundwork for future generations, and are merging forward with the hope of paving a clearer pathway for those following.

U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development is working to create an era in rural America where those looking for opportunities of business will have to look no further than the small towns and villages that we serve. We have been working on many fronts to increase lending in underserved areas including, banks and intermediaries like community development financial institutions.

Most recently, through the recent signing of an agreement to partner with the National Credit Union Administration, [the agency is able to] improve communication and share resources that will enable credit unions to fully participate in Rural Development programs.

Other efforts, such as working with other federal agencies to improve capital access are a top priority. Today, we are working to implement provisions of the 2002 Farm Bill that will help bring additional access to capital to small, minority and women-owned businesses.

I firmly believe that people will move to where opportunity exists, and we must work to provide the tools to allow them to become an entrepreneur and create these opportunities for themselves. USDA Rural Development will utilize the tools it has available to enable communities to stimulate economic and social growth in rural America.

Last fiscal year through the business loan programs, it invested $88.7 million in loan guarantees, $3.6 million in direct loans and $2.6 million in revolving loan funds for rural minority-owned businesses to start or expand business ventures.

Minority entrepreneurs bring diversity, culture and help fuel rural economies. USDA Rural Development commends these entrepreneurs for their success and the positive impact they have on rural America. Let us continue to strive to bring fair and equitable assistance to all rural Americans in the 21st century business world.

(Thomas C. Dorr is Under Secretary for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development.)

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