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Donnelly and Boren: Positive Climate Is Key to Economic Recovery

In a time of seemingly endless partisanship, there is one thing that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle can agree on: We still have a lot of work to do to see our economy recover.

As leaders of the Blue Dog Task Force on Economic Growth, there is no greater priority for us than our nation’s economic recovery, which is why we’re focused on creating a positive economic climate geared toward bolstering growth and promoting innovation.

Together with members of the task force and the larger Blue Dog Coalition, we have introduced three bills that would promote small-business job growth and stable financing. Our bills would provide small businesses with increased access to capital through larger Small Business Administration Express loans, expanded opportunity to lock in long-term, stable financing and increased access to government contracts.

Under a temporary program that expired in September, maximum SBAExpress loans were increased from $350,000 to $1 million. Our legislation, the Small Business Administration Express Loan Extension Act, would continue this through December 2012 so that small businesses can access larger loans with an accelerated approval process and often with a lower interest rate.

We also introduced the Small Business Administration 504 Loan Refinancing Extension Act. The bill would extend for one year a temporary program that allows small businesses to refinance eligible fixed assets without the requirement of an expansion, as is the case with typical 504 loans. This program provides more small businesses with an expanded opportunity to lock in long-term, stable financing, as well as protect jobs.

Finally, we introduced legislation to increase the government’s procurement goals with small businesses. The Small Business Opportunity Expansion Act would take the existing goals aimed at giving small businesses the maximum practicable opportunity to participate in providing goods and services to the government and increase them by 1 percent. In 2010, the federal government engaged in nearly $200 billion worth of business with small businesses, so this modest increase could mean billions of additional dollars of investment in American small businesses. By setting expectations a little higher for federal agencies, we would provide small businesses with greater opportunities and fewer barriers to doing business with the government.

In addition to making things better for American small businesses, we can better prepare American workers with the skills employers need now. Earlier this year, the Blue Dog Coalition endorsed the AMERICA Works Act. This bipartisan bill is part of the “Make It in America” agenda and would better prepare workers and keep American businesses competitive in the global marketplace by teaching to the needs of employers and ensuring that workers are able to convey their expertise to any employer in any state.

Despite the nation’s continued high unemployment rate, access to skilled labor is a repeated concern of manufacturers nationwide. In fact, a recent survey of executives at manufacturing companies by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute found that 67 percent of manufacturers have a moderate to severe shortage of available, qualified workers.

Our workforce is the best in the world, but we need a more streamlined way of categorizing and credentialing specific skills so that we can more efficiently connect skilled job seekers with the employers who need them. The AMERICA Works Act will help toward that goal.

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