By Vikrum Aiyer
This month we celebrate an American community whose cultural heritage is so diverse that it has gilded the mountain tops of the Himalayas and soared down the shimmering rivers of Laos.
It is a heritage that represents cutting-edge innovation in the West Coast and a vision of triumph in the Gulf Coast. It is a heritage that has shaped the values and ethics of generation after generation across the globe, and demonstrated an unflinching resilience in deriving possibility out of improbable circumstances. It is a heritage whose community in the United States boasts more than 100 languages and dialects, spans 40 national origins, and is 17 million strong.
In essence, the deep-seeded traditions of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community represent the very spirit, and the very best, of the American dream. Every day, two million AAPIs breathe life into small businesses — the lifeblood of our economy. And with over one million AAPI-owned firms in our country, such enterprises not only generate more than $300 billion dollars in annual sales, but they also employ 50 percent of all workers at minority firms nationwide.
That’s why the Department of Commerce and the Obama Administration have remained squarely focused on reducing barriers to entrepreneurial development — so that AAPI-owned businesses can optimally continue creating new jobs and new opportunities.
First and foremost, the capacity for growth of any enterprise rests in the ability to attract funding, raise capital and spur additional research and development. So the Administration has taken concrete steps to improve this funding ecosystem through the Start-Up America Initiative.
By building partnerships with the private sector, the Department of Commerce and the Small Business Administration match up to $2 billion with private funds that invest in early-stage R&D, invest in businesses in underserved communities, and invest in small entities that face difficult challenges in accessing capital.
These nationwide partnerships not only help break down barriers that AAPI entrepreneurs may face, but they also encourage and expand the role of minority owned venture in budding innovation clusters growing in cities like New Orleans and Pittsburgh. And for businesses seeking intellectual property rights to protect their ideas, the Department of Commerce is also working to rebuild the country’s patent and trademark system through a more efficient process that affords discounts to small businesses.
Already these and other efforts throughout the Administration have helped AAPI small business owners secure $15 billion worth of loans and contracts.. If you launch a small business, you can deduct a full $10,000 of its startup costs. If you are self-employed, you can deduct 100 percent of the health-care expenses incurred by you and your family.
If you hire new employees who had previously been unemployed, there’s a tax credit for that. And if you have existing employees or hire new employees and offer them health care, there’s a tax credit for that as well. From tax relief and small business loans, to insurance reforms and Recovery Act contracts — this Administration has provided more direct assistance to AAPI firms than any previous time in our nation’s history. And because so many of us have family, friends and contacts in other countries around the world, the Department of Commerce has also made AAPI outreach an important part of our National Export Initiative.
Certainly there’s more to be done, and with a rich tapestry of language in our community — communicating the tools that are out there is also a challenge. In turn, Commerce’s Minority Business Development Agency has also developed an aggressive outreach plan that targets AAPI entities and educates businesses on the federal grants and resources at their disposal.
But ultimately, we know that no two groups participating in this great democratic experiment are alike. The needs of Vietnamese Americans will invariably differ from Indian Americans which will also vary from Chinese Americans. Yet only when we genuinely listen to one another will differences be exposed, and individual needs be addressed. That’s what this Administration’s efforts are rooted in. That’s what this country has been built on. And that’s what this month is all about.
Vikrum Aiyer is Senior Speech Writer and Special Advisor at the U.S. Department of Commerce.