President Obama has stressed time and again that the best ideas don’t always come from Washington. It is with that spirit that I met this week with a group of agricultural entrepreneurs in Richmond, Virginia to hear their thoughts on the best ways for the federal government to stimulate economic growth and create jobs.
There was a broad range of entrepreneurs at our roundtable, including renewable energy leaders, food hub organizers, and farmers producing a variety of items from dairy to meats to wine. Our host Chris Cook, Executive Director of the Virginia Foundation for Agriculture, Innovation, and Rural Sustainability (VA FAIRS), a business development organization, brought together small business leaders with important insights.
The business leaders at this roundtable are at the cutting edge of innovation. Did you know that plastics can be made from poultry feathers instead of petroleum? It’s happening, right here in our backyard. And Virginians are ready to lead on renewable energy, producing quality new jobs, strengthening rural economies, and reducing our reliance on imported energy.
Our conversation vacillated between excitement over the incredible innovation going on in Virginia and the challenges small businesses must overcome to be successful. Despite the diversity in business operations, there was universal agreement that access to capital in the current economy was extremely difficult. Another consensus theme in our conversation was the need to reduce the paperwork required by the government to apply for grants and loans. Other topics discussed included the need for government to ensure a competitive marketplace, support for ethanol and other renewable energy sectors, better tax structures for start-ups, and the problems that emerge when rules are changed when loan packages are working their way through the Federal system.
Monday’s session was my second meeting as part of the “Winning the Future Roundtable with American Businesses” tour currently being conducted by Administration officials across the country. Like my colleagues, I’m sharing what I learned in Richmond with USDA leaders as well as with the White House. I look forward to working with the President in the weeks and months ahead to ensure that the information I received shapes our actions and helps America win the future.