With his visit to Milwaukee, including a talk at the Wisconsin Black Chamber of Commerce as well as a stop at the shop of a Black plumbing contractor, President Joe Biden underscored his administration’s economic focus on the middle class Wednesday.
Biden touted the addition of 15 million jobs since he took office after the brief COVID-19 pandemic recession. “We’re doing it by building an economy from the middle out and the bottom up, not the top down. Not a whole lot trickled down on my dad’s kitchen table with a top-down economy,” he said. “But when you [build from the middle], when you increase the middle class, the poor have a shot and the wealthy still do very well, the middle class does well, and we all do well.”
In his remarks to the chamber, Biden highlighted the administration’s $15 billion project to replace lead pipes across the country, including in Milwaukee, part of the bipartisan infrastructure law enacted in 2021. Biden was introduced by Rashawn Spivey, founder and CEO of Hero Plumbing in Milwaukee, which has replaced 600 lead water pipes in the city so far.
“Lead exposure disproportionately affects low-income communities and disproportionately affects people of color,” Biden said, noting that children were especially vulnerable. “This is the United States of America, for God’s sake — everyone should be able to turn on a faucet and know the water they drink was clean and pure and not have to worry about it.”
Biden took a jab at Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson for voting against the infrastructure law as well as the American Rescue Plan Act, which helped fund some of the small business assistance he touted Wednesday. He also criticized Republicans in Congress who are trying to undo provisions passed in the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act to lower the cost of prescription drugs.
Biden’s visit included an announcement that a project to revitalize a historic industrial strip on Milwaukee’s North Side is a finalist to share in $130 million in federal investment for distressed communities. The U.S. Department of Commerce has announced 22 finalists in the Recompete program, established as part of the 2021 CHIPS and Science Act.
The Milwaukee project involves renovating the 30th Street industrial area, anchored by the Century City Business Park. The 30th Street Corridor was once a manufacturing and job hub on Milwaukee’s North Side and a source of employment especially in the majority Black residential neighborhoods nearby.
Biden called the strip “the backbone of Milwaukee’s industrial might.”
“Tens of thousands of Black people migrated from the South to the middle of the country, for good-paying manufacturing jobs,” Biden said. Decades of discrimination, segregation and economic disinvestment followed, he added, “but today we’re making sure Milwaukee is coming back.”
The project is seeking about $50 million to be used for business growth, upgrading industrial sites and institute job training programs, according to the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA).
“By targeting distressed communities across the country and bringing good jobs and training to the people in places that need them most, Recompete will help regions write a new chapter of opportunity by powering long-term economic growth,” said Don Graves, the Commerce Department’s deputy secretary, during a briefing Tuesday for reporters ahead of Biden’s visit.
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The proposed project is spearheaded by the Grow Milwaukee Coalition. The group is led by the Northwest Side Community Development Corp. and includes partnerships with the city of Milwaukee, the Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership – Big Step, the Milwaukee Area Labor Council, the Milwaukee Bucks, Froedtert Health and Rockwell Automation.
Biden and the White House also highlighted the growth of Black- and Hispanic-owned businesses since Biden took office three years ago.
In that time, Biden told the Black Chamber audience Wednesday, “America has filed a record number” of new Black-owned business startups — 15 million in all.
In the just-ended 2023 fiscal year, the Small Business Administration has provided $50 billion for small business nationally, according to the White House. Minority-owned businesses now account for one-third of the SBA’s loan portfolio, up from 23% in 2020, and SBA loans to Black-owned businesses have more than doubled in number as well as dollar value, officials said.
Joelle Gamble, deputy director of the National Economic Council, said in the Tuesday briefing that “the United States is on track to have the three strongest years in history for small business creation.” Black small business ownership has doubled between 2019 and 2022, Gamble said, “growing at the fastest pace in 30 years.”
The White House said the administration’s efforts included a record $70 billion in federal contracts awarded to small, disadvantaged businesses in the 2022 fiscal year.
In addition, the federal government is providing $12 billion in additional support for community lenders. The U.S Treasury Department has estimated that over the next decade the investment will boost lending in Latino communities by $50 billion and in Black communities by $80 billion.
Another $10 billion has been set aside for states, tribes and territories to expand capital access for about 100,000 small businesses, including $79 million in Wisconsin, according to the White House.
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