Sustaining the Stimulus–Why Van Jones Should Work With the Small Business Administration
Right-wing criticism of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) largely centers around the short term effect versus the long term cost.
In 2 years the dust will settle and we will have data that will either vindicate the bill as an effective strategic move to really get the economy going, or condemn the action as another in a series of Band-Aids of short term ‘symptoms’ strategies that fails to cure the disease.
Barack Obama could lose significant allies in congress in his midterm elections, much like Bill Clinton did in 1994, if this bill does not deliver the kinds of results we hope it will. To avoid this fate, Obama and Van Jones would be wise to work to make green jobs into green businesses and green careers.
Green Jobs are great, don’t get me wrong. We need them now more than ever, and I respect Mr. Jones’ work tremendously. His group managed to convince the city of Oakland to spend resources to get a green jobs training program going by making it a win-win argument: local jobs created, infrastructure updated, kids stay out of jail, and the city saves money in the long run fighting drugs and crime while becoming less dependent on distant and polluting energy sources, keeping more money in the city.
With this approach, Jones will likely have great success with the participants of the U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, which over 500 cities have joined. The agreement states that by 2012, these cities will reduce their carbon emissions to 7% below 1990 levels. These cities will more than likely join the green jobs revolution with Jones in the lead, due to the success he had in Oakland, not to mention the potential for federal dollars for these programs.
But if the ARRA is going to be a success, that is, if it is going to someday be seen as truly more than a short term stimulus package, it MUST create self-sustaining businesses and great green careers. What happens in two years, if a person gets some specific job skills around weatherizing homes, when there are no more homes in his area that need weatherizing? If the person doesn’t have the resources to perhaps branch out into remodeling or carpentry, they’re right back where they were 2 years before, hoping someone will help them get a job.
So I have put together a petition to Karen Mills, Administrator of the Small Business Administration, to encourage her to work with Mr. Jones so that the SBA becomes a green business resource. Please read and sign the petition here. When you are done, please pass it along!
Why is the petition necessary? After browsing the SBA website, I found very little regarding sustainable business practices or green businesses. The SBA provides assistance to small business owners and has an affiliate network of Small Business Development Centers that help countless thousands of entrepreneurs get their start. They don’t review loans directly, but can help someone get their materials organized and business strategies together in order that they might have a better chance of procuring funding. They also provide mentoring, education, and resources for entrepreneurs and managers. But what is an aspiring eco-entrepreneur to do if they need mentoring? And what about all those would-be eco-entrepreneurs who don’t think about green, but would love to hear about it if their local SBA affiliate had materials about it available?
For example, what if someone walks into an office and wants to start a dry cleaner,because his or her parents ran a dry cleaner, and it’s a business they feel comfortable running. They could get all the resources they need and be out the door ready to go in a few hours, ready to type up their business plan. If the SBA had a green business slant, they would have a list of alternatives to just about any kind of business out there, just in case that entrepreneur might be interested in having a perc-free facility. Without that impetus, Mr. Drycleaner would be using perc and buying perc for the next 20 years. Mr. Drycleaner and his employees would be inhaling fumes for years, as would residents, customers, and passers by.
After calling the SBA to inquire about what green resources were available, I was passed from person to person (all of whom were extremely nice and heard me out, but if I had video-phone, I would likely have seen the ‘deer in the headlights’ look several times). Finally, I was able to reach someone in a department they called “Advocacy”, where someone was knowledgeable of environmental affairs. As I asked him about if the SBA had any plans to incorporate green business resources and work with Van Jones to create a program to ensure the best possible long term success of ARRA, there was a bit of a pregnant pause, so I stopped and waited.
“Now who is Van Jones?” he asked.
A mean, green SBA would provide all the resources and tools needed not just for entrepreneurs, but for the network of affiliates associated with the SBA so that each region (there are 1400+ Small Business Development Centers in the country) would be able to hone its message regionally but with support from the parent organization. It could offer webinars, downloadable documents, podcasts, and trainings to SBDC’s, who in turn could offer eco-friendly alternative business plans, mentorship, sustainability consulting, education about efficiency tax credits and other incentives, green business networking with other eco-entrepreneurs, and consulting on applying for and procuring funding.
Giving standardized training to these regions that is sanctioned by the SBA would allow an aspiring eco-entrepreneur as good a chance of getting good help whether they lived in Big Stone Gap, Virginia, or San Francisco. Well, as good a chance as possible.
Scott Cooney is the author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-HIll), and looks forward to the day where the green economy is simply referred to as…the economy.
Photo credit: www.VanJones.net