President Barack Obama ordered a 12-inch hoagie and met with several business owners inside a trendy café in Washington, D.C. Wednesday to solicit support for his congressional “To-Do” list designed, in part, to help grow the economy in urban areas.
“You’ve got three small businesses who are outstanding examples of American entrepreneurship, whether it’s food services, retail, construction,” Obama said before munching on a roast turkey sandwich. “All across the country, you’re seeing examples of folks who have confidence in the economy and have confidence in America, and it’s their ingenuity and their hard work that’s allowed them to be successful.”
Obama’s legislative plan for Congress focuses on several fiscal initiatives that he has been touting months, including eliminating tax incentives for companies that ship jobs overseas and promoting new tax credits for small businesses to develop clean energy.
So far, Obama’s call for Congress to back his agenda has fallen on deaf ears and now he’s taking his cause to the court of public opinion. On Wednesday, Obama visited Taylor Gourmet, in D.C. and listened to three business owners who told the president their stories.
Brian J. Smith is a founding principal at Francis Lee Contracting, a three-year-old general contracting firm that specializes in construction. The company employs 14 people and is headquartered in Washington, DC’s Ward 8, which is predominantly black.
Philadelphia natives Casey Patten and David Mazza are founders and co-owners of Taylor Gourmet, an Italian deli with four locations in the Washington, DC metropolitan region. And Kathy Rachels is the president of Yes! Organic Markets. Rachels was born in Korea and immigrated to the United States in 1971. With the help of two U.S. Small Business Administration-backed loans, Rachels was able to purchase additional locations. There are now eight Yes! Organic Markets in the D.C. area.
For the past few months, Obama has been talking more about the importance of sustaining small businesses in urban areas where the majority of African-American stores and shops are located. In 2009, Obama created the White House Office of Urban Affairs to promote his urban policy agenda, which is grounded in the belief that metropolitan areas are vital engines for economic growth. The president is hoping that congressional leaders embrace the correlation between government assistance and small businesses becoming successful.
“Actions by Congress and good execution by the Small Business Administration can make a big difference in helping these folks see — it’s not going to do it for them, it’s not going to make up for bad service or a bad product, but when you’ve got a great service or a great product and people are willing to work really hard, then action by government and the SBA can help give them a hand up and get them started,” Obama said.
“And this is the reason why we think it’s so important for Congress to act right now,” the president added. “The economy is recovering, but we’ve still got a long way to go. Too many folks are still out of work….And so we want to sustain momentum. And one of the ways that we can sustain momentum is for Congress to take some actions right now — even though it’s election season, even though there’s gridlock, even though there’s partisanship — take some actions right now that would really make a difference.”
Obama told the business owners that one of the items on his “To-Do” list would be to provide tax breaks for companies that are hiring new employees or raising the wages and salaries of their existing employees.
“Either way, what that does is it gives them an incentive as their expanding to say, maybe we hire an extra two people,” Obama said. “Maybe we hire an extra three people. Maybe we hire an extra ten people.”
Obama’s economic pitch to Congress comes as members of the U.S. Small Business Administration and the White House Business Council are scheduled to host an Urban Economic Forum in Detroit on Thursday. Administration officials plan to discuss Obama’s support for policies that create jobs while encouraging the next generation of entrepreneurs, many of whom are black.
The Detroit Urban Economic Forum, according to the White House, is the seventh of a multi-city series designed to connect urban entrepreneurs with business owners and offer them resources and networking opportunities to be successful. The White House said previous Urban Economic Forums were held in New York City in February; in Birmingham, Alabama, Los Angeles, California, and Las Vegas, Nevada in March; Phoenix, Arizona, in April; and Kansas City, Missouri earlier this month.
“So my message to Congress… is let’s go ahead and act to help build and sustain momentum for our economy,” Obama said Wednesday. “There will be more than enough time for us to campaign and politick, but let’s make sure that we don’t lose steam at a time when a lot of folks are feeling pretty optimistic and are ready to go.”
Before Obama left Taylor Gourmet, he bought six hoagies to go for his White House luncheon guests, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev) and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).
“We get requests from Congress all the time for hoagie platters, but never have they been hand-delivered by the President,” Patten said. “Nor have we ever been lucky enough to have the president sink his teeth into one of our delicious creations.”
Obama paid cash for the hoagies — $62.79.
“I have to pay,” the president said. “It’s my rule.”