A conversation about the state of small businesses with Congresswoman Young Kim

Op-EdAppeared in Today's Hotelier on May 31, 2021By Alfredo Ortiz

Congresswoman Young Kim is a freshman member of the U.S. House of Representatives serving California’s 39th District. As a former small business owner and the current Ranking Member of the Small Business Subcommittee on Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Workforce Development, I sat down with her to discuss her background and the future of small businesses in America.

Here are a few takeaways from our conversation.

Tell us a little bit about your background and why you decided to run for Congress.
I came to the United States with my family from South Korea in middle school. We lived in Guam, then Hawaii, then California, where I put myself through school at USC. I ran a small business, raised my family, and served my community in Southern California. Now, I am honored to be one of the first Korean-American women to serve in Congress.

I ran for Congress to make sure all voices in our diverse community in the 39th District of California were heard, get through the gridlock, and bring commonsense policies to Washington.

The 39th District is my home. To be able to give back to the community that has given to me is so exciting and the privilege of a lifetime. As a Korean-American, I think that I am in Congress also shows the American Dream is alive and real. I hope to make a positive impact in Congress and work together with my colleagues to ensure Americans of all walks of life can achieve their dream like I did.

How will your experience as a small business owner shape your time in office?
I have experienced the struggles entrepreneurs face to start and stay in business. Small businesses aren’t a talking point; these are real people providing for their families and employing Americans doing the same.

I hope to create policies that empower our small businesses to gain access to capital, innovate, and thrive. I’m especially excited to fight for our small business owners as the Ranking Member of the Small Business Subcommittee on Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Workforce Development.

What advice would you give to the Asian-American entrepreneurs reading this right now?
Never give up on your dream. The COVID-19 pandemic has hit our small businesses hard, but we will get through this. Apply for a Paycheck Protection Program loan, and use the SBA and other resources to help. I know it’s been tough, but don’t give up.

What do you think the outlook is for small businesses right now?
More than 19,000 small businesses across California have closed due to COVID-19, and I’ve heard stories of many more barely hanging on. Our small business owners are following public health, state, and local guidelines to protect the public health and safety of their employees and customers while doing all they can to stay afloat.

I’m committed to making sure the federal government provides direct relief to small businesses that need it and promotes policies that allow our small business owners to get back on their feet.

How well do you think the federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) worked in extending a lifeline to small businesses? What more should Congress do, if anything, to help Main Street get back on its feet?
The Paycheck Protection Program has been a lifeline for so many small businesses during COVID-19. We must ensure that as much money as possible can go directly to provide relief to our struggling businesses and families.

As we deploy the COVID-19 vaccines nationwide and reopen the economy, we must also remember many of our businesses are still closed or operating at reduced capacity. That is why I introduced a bipartisan bill, HR 953, to create a grant program to help our small businesses gain access to COVID-19 tests, PPE, and other resources to help them safely reopen and stay open.

Knowing that the vaccine is becoming more readily available, what’s the timeline on getting the economy back on track?
The best way to help small businesses is to allow them to safely and fully reopen. I recently signed onto a bipartisan $160-billion COVID-19 vaccine distribution package and introduced HR 953 with Rep. Abigail Spanberger (VA-07) that would help small businesses receive PPE and other supplies to safely reopen. In California, we have seen our vaccine distribution badly mishandled. At least one-third of the allotted vaccines given to the state are unaccounted for. I hope we can work to quickly distribute vaccines while helping our communities reopen.

How should Congress balance the concern of heaping more financial liabilities on future Americans with the need to push economic recovery for Main Street?
We must make sure our COVID-19 relief is targeted so we can directly help struggling small businesses and families. That is why I am committed to making sure the nearly $1 trillion in unspent federal COVID-19 relief can go to our communities before passing another massive stimulus package. The best way to help small businesses is to allow them to reopen fully for business and give them the tools to implement safety measures.

As the ranking member of the Small Business Subcommittee on Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Workforce Development, what policy initiatives are a priority this year? Are there any that would attract bipartisan support? What’s on the table for the broader Committee on Small Business of which you’re a member?
I’m excited about working to develop strategies to prepare our workforce and economy for the jobs of tomorrow. I think this is an area where both Republicans and Democrats can work together. All of us have constituents who need help transitioning to the jobs of the future, and I hope we can come together to develop plans to educate our children in STEM fields and help transition people currently working to new jobs where advancement is available.

I just had a nice conversation with my counterpart, Representative Crow – Chairman of the Subcommittee – to find areas where we can both agree on. I think the Subcommittee will try to find common ground on apprenticeship opportunities for small businesses. One of my priorities in the Subcommittee is to ensure that the Small Business Innovation Research (SSIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (SBTT) programs are streamlining the development and commercialization of new technologies. As we look to reauthorize the SSIR and SBTT programs, we should take a closer look at ways of making them more effective working with private enterprises.

Alfredo Ortiz is the President and CEO of the Job Creators Network. Congresswoman Young Kim is a freshman member of the U.S. House of Representatives serving California’s 39th District. She is a former small business owner.