Around the Institute

Welcoming Remarks: 2021 Aspen Latino Business & Entrepreneurship Summit

October 27, 2021  • Daniel R. Porterfield

Aspen Institute President and CEO Dan Porterfield delivered the below remarks at the Aspen Latino Business and Entrepreneurship Summit on October 27, 2021. Follow him on Twitter @DanPorterfield.

Thank you, Domenika, and thank you to the entire team at the Aspen Institute’s Latinos and Society Program, for your work bringing us together safely for community, for inspiration, and for progress in supporting and developing Latino businesses and entrepreneurs.

As Domenika said and has shown, Latino-owned businesses are a dynamic, growing, powerful, and resilient sector of the U.S. economy—critical to our collective future and, I would argue, our democracy. Domenika’s work, and yours, demonstrate a tremendous vision and a set of humanistic values reflective of our multi-cultural, multi-ethnic country at its finest. The extraordinary vitality and diversity of the Latino community is one of this country’s very greatest assets.

I come to the Aspen Institute from many years working in education. Back in the 1980s, I had the privilege of working here in Washington, DC to help courageous Central American newcomers connect to educational resources at Georgetown University that would help their children. And then, about 20 years ago, I had the privilege of helping Georgetown recruit, educate, and launch a growing cohort of Latino students. And then, during the 2010s, I had the opportunity to help Franklin & Marshall College develop a talent strategy through which we more-or-less tripled our population of Latino students, African American students, Pell Grant-eligible students, and rural students.

In all these cases, of course, the students made the school better—that’s what motivated students do—because so many Latino students, with a brilliant diversity of identity, bring the values of education, family, opportunity, work, and culture to college and to life.

I also witnessed something profound: The foundation upon which so many of these students built their success was their parents’ participation in the economy as owners or employees of small businesses. This sector is a springboard to equity, opportunity, and advancement for families and communities—and that is why, led by Domenika, the Aspen Institute is so committed to its flourishing.

The Latinos and Society Program, and the Aspen Institute as a whole, drives change toward a free, just, and equitable society. Many of our programs partner with and serve the Latino community in areas ranging from education to health care to family empowerment to interreligious dialogue to, of course, today’s topic, economic development.

Domenika’s recruitment was a major priority for us, and she is doing amazing work. Under her leadership, the Latinos and Society team has responded with vision and purpose to the opportunities and challenges facing the Latino business community in our country. This team is driving the Latino economic agenda forward.

To give just one example, we have launched a new place-based initiative—the City Learning and Action Lab—focusing on the recovery and growth of Latino-owned businesses. By convening high-level leaders across sectors and brainstorming solutions collectively, we are turning ideas into action that will no doubt strengthen our nation’s economic future.

I’d like to welcome the City Learning and Action Lab’s leaders and participants who are here today, like UC San Bernardino President Tomás Morales, representing the cities of San Bernardino, El Paso, Phoenix, Miami, Chicago, and San Antonio. The Institute is working in many ways in these cities—the community colleges in San Antonio and Miami, for example, have both won the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence—and we are eager to do more. A special shout-out to that passionate public servant Secretary Henry Cisneros, in whose footsteps we all follow, who has championed the idea that an inclusive economy and an inclusive democracy are two sides of the same American coin. Thank you all for being here and for what you do.

A word about today’s context: As we know, the volume of Federal funds already deployed and still being considered in Congress to fuel our economic recovery are some of the largest investments in our country’s history. Billions of dollars have been allocated across multiple Federal, State, and local governments and public authorities that need to reach our hardest hit communities. These investments are critical if we are to achieve equitable outcomes for America’s BIPOC entrepreneurs and small business owners and show the promise of cross sector coalitions working together around shared strategies. If you believe, as I do, that government has a role to play in supporting a strong, equitable, resilient economy, then it’s critical that we show the power of these investments in the lives of our people and economies of our regions and country.

With that in mind, we are so pleased to be joined today by a tremendous leader and expert on economic development, Isabella Casillas Guzman, the 27th Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration, who I now have the honor of introducing.

Administrator Guzman represents the more than 30 million small businesses in the United States and works to helping small business owners and entrepreneurs start and grow their ventures. Administrator Guzman previously served as Director of the California Office of the Small Business Advocate, where she served as the voice of small businesses and innovative startups in the state—a state that is part of our City Learning and Action Lab program.

Administrator Guzman has previously served in leadership at the SBA as the agency’s Deputy Chief of Staff and Senior Advisor during the Obama-Biden Administration. Her passion for supporting small businesses stems from being the daughter of a small business owner and growing up to become an entrepreneur herself. Administrator Guzman has acted to bring liquidity to the market, support businesses impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and promote new SBA products to ensure the economic lifeline of all our small businesses.

Thank you, Madame Administrator, and thank you all for joining us.