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(Manchester, NH) – In her keynote address at Manchester’s Small Business Week kick-off luncheon today, U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) spoke about what needs to be done in the Senate to support small businesses and foster a positive business climate.

“As a former small business owner, I know it is business, not government, that creates jobs.  But I believe government has a critical role to play in helping small businesses weather tough economic times and helping create the business environment we need to remain competitive,” said Shaheen, a member of the Small Business Committee.  “To make that happen, the government must act to transition to a clean energy economy, encourage innovation, and address our national debt.”

The full text of Shaheen’s speech, as prepared for delivery, is below:

Thank you, Jay, for that nice introduction. And thank you for having me today. It’s a privilege to help the City of Manchester kick off small business week.

I’d also like to acknowledge Mayor Gatsas for hosting this event. And I want to recognize Greta Johannson, the new District Director for the Small Business Administration in New Hampshire.

As a former small business owner, I know it is business, not government, that creates jobs. But I believe government has a critical role to play in helping small businesses weather tough economic times and fostering the positive business climate we need to remain competitive.

The last several years have been particularly challenging for small business. Main Street companies saw their sales decline and had a very difficult time accessing the credit they needed just to keep the lights on, let alone grow.

While I am sometimes frustrated with the inability for Congress to get things done, one area where we have taken some significant steps is helping small businesses weather the economic storm. For example, the Recovery Act provided a much-needed boost to small business lending by increasing loan guarantees and limits on SBA loans. These measures resulted in over 900 new SBA loans in New Hampshire.

As a member of the Small Business Committee, I helped craft the bipartisan Small Business Jobs Act last year. That bill had an immediate impact here in New Hampshire. In the last quarter of 2010, the measures included in the Jobs Act increased SBA lending New Hampshire by over 350 percent.

The Small Business Jobs Act will also help more small New Hampshire companies access credit through two lending funds – one to help community banks lend to small businesses, and another to support state lending programs, like the Business Finance Authority’s capital access program.

While our recovery is still fragile, we have seen some signs that the economy is turning the corner. And, most importantly, our economy has added over 2 million private sector jobs over 14 consecutive months. The most recent jobs report showed the strongest monthly growth in five years. Here in New Hampshire, there are still too many people without work. But our unemployment rate has dropped to 5.2% and we were once again just named the most livable state in the nation.

Small business lending has increased, so too has demand for those loans – a recent survey by the Federal Reserve found a 25 percent increase in demand for commercial and industrial loans. That’s good news – that means business is hiring and investing.

In the long run, the overarching challenge facing New Hampshire and the entire country is how we remain competitive in an increasingly global economy.

Today, I’d like to talk about three areas where I think the government must act to help foster the business climate we need to make that happen – transitioning to a clean energy economy, encouraging innovation, and addressing the national debt.

As families and small businesses face rising energy prices and tight budgets, there is an immediate need to take action on our nation’s energy policy. The world is on the verge of the most significant economic transformation since the Industrial Revolution. This transformation will be built on a fundamental change in the way we produce and use energy. Millions of new jobs will be created in alternative energy, energy efficiency and other forms of clean energy. These jobs aren’t a lock for the United States – they will go to the first countries to invest seriously in clean energy. China, Germany, and even Brazil, are aggressively vying to lead the charge and secure these new jobs.

That’s why, last Thursday, I introduced a bipartisan bill with Senator Rob Portman of Ohio to create a national energy efficiency strategy for the United States. The energy efficiency strategy included in our bill will make our economy more competitive, start addressing our nation’s energy challenges and create private sector jobs today.

While energy efficiency won’t solve all of our energy problems, it remains the fastest, cheapest way to meet our energy challenges. And it will save consumers and businesses money. The cheapest fuel is the energy we don’t use. Buildings in the United States consume 40 percent of our energy. The bill will help many small businesses in New Hampshire retrofit their buildings through new loan guarantee programs, helping them save billions of dollars in energy costs.

One way to maintain America’s competitive edge is promoting innovation through the Small Business Innovation Research, or SBIR, program, which has been very helpful to New Hampshire innovators. In just the last two years, New Hampshire firms received 80 SBIR awards totaling $26 million. In recent months I visited three companies - Airex in Somersworth, Spire Semiconductor in Hudson, and Active Shock here in Manchester – that are doing cutting-edge research because of the SBIR program. Unfortunately, SBIR has been operating under short-term extensions for a few years now, and a recent effort in the Senate to extend the program for 8 years fell victim to partisan games. We need to pass a long-term reauthorization of SBIR in this session of Congress.

Finally, there’s no doubt we have to address our long-term deficits and the debt. Congress must act this summer to raise the debt ceiling. I think it’s likely that the vote on the debt limit will also address the deficit.

To solve this problem, we have to look at everything deficit related, spending and revenues. Deficit reduction should encourage, not harm, economic growth. Ultimately, we must remember that it’s the economy that matters. We must invest in infrastructure, education, and a next-generation energy system to keep our economy competitive in the 21st century.

While it’s not clear what the final package will look like, one thing is clear: We can’t afford to play politics with the debt ceiling.  Just approaching a default could have a major impact on the markets and on Main Street businesses. Many economists have warned that it could trigger another financial crisis like we saw in 2008. That’s a situation we must avoid.

There’s no doubt that Congress has some tough decisions to make. Those decisions will require shared sacrifice and will require compromise. I’m hopeful we will be able to reach agreement on a plan that addresses our national debt in a responsible way.

I know that in some quarters it’s become fashionable to say this country’s best days are behind us. I don’t believe that for a moment. As I travel around New Hampshire I see cutting-edge innovators who are creating jobs and young people who are ambitious and full of hope. I intend to do everything I can as a U.S. Senator to help create the conditions that will allow our businesses to grow and our workers to find good jobs. 

Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing your questions and talking with you.