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Business leaders discuss opportunities, challenges in Boston

Martin Desmarais | 2/19/2014, 11:02 a.m.
Boston Redevelopment Authority Director of Planning Kairos Shen (r) makes a point during the Boston Means Business panel discussion. Looking on are (l-r) Suffolk University Professor Richard Taylor, Boston Convention & Exhibition Center Chairman James Rooney, Roxbury Technologies CEO Beth Williams and State Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry. Martin Desmarais

Sen. Markey’s message was one of Boston’s need to continue to break down barriers for entrepreneurs of color particularly to access to capital that can help drive their businesses forward.

“We have not come as far as we have to come if we are going to provide the economic opportunities that allow each and every person in our country to be able to maximize those God-given abilities, which they have,” Markey said.

Markey suggested a three-point plan for Boston to bolster economic development for minority businesses. The first is to give minority businesses access to capital. The second is to make sure that graduates from local colleges, especially minorities, stay in Boston to work. The third is to provide an educational workforce for minority-owned businesses that ensures a new generation of workers that can help move companies forward.

“We need to make sure that government programs designed to encourage minority businesses remain funded,” Sen. Markey said. “Boston is growing. It’s bubbling. It’s bursting. You can feel this incredible energy now in Boston. We have a chance now to put together a plan as we move forward in this next generation.”

Mayor Walsh called the forum on economic development for minority businesses a very important discussion and pledged the city’s support for such efforts.

“We are committed to making Boston inclusive in every area. It is a matter of basic justice and our economic success as a city depends upon it. We cannot reach our potential unless we use the talent of all of our people,” Walsh said. “The people cannot contribute fully unless they have a level playing field. The way to do that is by creating avenues of access in every neighborhood — access to government representation, to corporate leadership, to higher education, to business ownership, to jobs and home ownership.

“You are having an important dialogue about how we will develop the future,” Walsh added. “I am here to tell you that we as a city will be a devoted partner.”

Walsh restated his campaign pledge to have 50 percent of his cabinet people of color and to also have greater diversity at the department head level.

He also said that the city will work hard to drive economic opportunities beyond the city’s current business hubs and into Roxbury, Mattapan and Dorchester.

“In the end it is about empowering the entrepreneurial spirit that already exists in our communities. We will be proactive in reaching out to the businessmen and women of color and supporting their dreams. We will strengthen small businesses in all of our neighborhoods,” Walsh said. “The first step to supporting people is understanding the challenges they face. As I said on my first day I am here to listen, to learn and to lead. With your help we will make Boston a place where everyone can climb the ladder of economic success.”

State Sen. Forry made a call to action, acknowledging that talk and strategy is not enough. She said that politicians need to listen more closely to people of color who own businesses and find out the barriers they are facing when it comes to opportunity and growth and establish clear policies that remove these barriers.