Bill Clinton Hosts First CGI America Event to Boost Small Businesses, Jobs

The forum will bring startups together with business-growth organizations, and will secure commitments for everything from mentoring to small-business loans.

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Bill Clinton's first ever CGI America hopes to boost economic recovery by accelerating small businesses and job growth.Citing the "continuing troubles in the economy" and "gridlock in Washington," former President Bill Clinton is hosting Clinton Global Initiative America, the first ever CGI event focused specifically on economic recovery and job growth in the United States. More than 700 business, non-profit and government leaders will attend the Chicago event on Wednesday and Thursday, including Clinton, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Priceline co-founder Scott Case, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh and Startup America chief and AOL co-founder Steve Case.

Discussions will revolve around the idea that "if there are no new changes in government policy, how can we make the most of the programs we have now?" Clinton said in conference call with reporters on Tuesday.

One issue the event will address is small-business credit. "A lot of small businesses need credit at affordable rates," Clinton said. "There are strategies we can develop to accelerate lending." He cited his former White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles' work while he was SBA administrator, to cut the SBA loan application from "an inch thick to a page," and the time of processing an SBA loan from 10 weeks to three weeks.

Clinton also pointed to untapped opportunities, such as for small manufacturers in the alternative energy markets and small businesses in rural markets. "It'll be interesting to hear what the governors [attending the meeting] have to say about involving the private sector with infrastructure [projects]," he said.

In the event's startup working group sessions, founders of five successful startups from across the country will pitch their businesses and discuss their biggest obstacles to growth. They'll then work with organizations such as Excelerate Labs, an accelerator program in Chicago, and re-pitch their revised business plans. Clinton cited a Kauffman Foundation statistic that companies five years old or younger are responsible for the majority of net job growth over the last 30 years, adding his intention to "accelerate" these startups by matching them with business growth experts. "When there's a lot of economic activity, it's easy for any business to make money," he said. "But [today's startups] have to come immediately branded and sell at a price that's competitive."

Another cornerstone of CGI is its "Commitments to Action." Since CGI started in 2005, its members have made approximately 2,000 Commitments to Action, helping improve the lives of about 300,000 people in more than 180 countries. Once fulfilled, these commitments will equal an estimated $63 billion in value. Some of the new Commitments to Action announced at CGI America will:

Bring Jobs to Joplin. Onshore Technology Services, which trains unemployed and dislocated workers, committed to creating 1,000 jobs over five years in Joplin, Mo.

Fund Startups. Floodgate Ventures committed to raise a new investment fund of $200 million to finance more than 100 startup companies, creating more than 10,000 new U.S. jobs over the next 10 years; educating and mentoring 500 science and engineering students to develop their entrepreneurial skills; and making seed-stage investments of up to $1.5 million in new American businesses.

Help Microbusinesses. The Association of Enterprise Opportunity (AEO) committed to helping businesses with fewer than five employees -- which represent more than 80 percent of all U.S. businesses -- by creating an investment fund of performance-based grants, low-cost loans and capital.

Mentor Entrepreneurs. Mercy Corps and AEO committed to create an online social network called MicroMentor, in which 250 volunteer business professionals will mentor entrepreneurs over the next two years. An affiliate program will also help 100 local small business development organizations access mentor and advising services for an estimated 10,000 clients, as well as training for their staff, customized program materials, a co-branded online community space, and 24/7 access to program administration tools.

Expand Wind and Solar Manufacturing Opportunities. The BlueGreen Alliance Foundation committed to help develop domestic companies produce parts and components for renewable energy industries, providing technical assistance, workforce training and connections to companies in the emerging wind and solar power industries.

"When these commitments [from CGI America] are fully funded and implemented, 140,000 people will receive access to job training, 1,000 information technology jobs will be created in rural America, and $3.5 million will be loaned to small businesses in the U.S.," Clinton said.

Tags: Bil Clinton small business, Bill Clinton, CGI America, Commitment to Action, News

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