By Maggie Payette Harlow, SIGNARAMA Downtown and Transworld Business Advisors Louisville
I recently had a conversation with my 14-year-old son about messages he was hearing about how corrupt our government and military are, and that our country is in steep decline.
“Is it true?” he asked. I tried, as carefully as I could, to convey the complexity of the questions he was asking.
I responded, yes, sometimes our government and military leaders make big mistakes, sometimes with only their personal interests in mind, but that despite those problems and many others, Americans generally agree that this is the best system of government available.
I was reminded of that conversation during my recent trip to Washington, D.C., where I met with Louisville community and business leaders, as well as leaders within the Obama administration.
Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer invited 45 Louisville community leaders to join him on a trip to meet with the staff of the White House Business Council. This visit was about small business, both locally and nationally, as part of an initiative by our president to have hundreds of these kinds of community conversations with representatives of cities from all over the U.S.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from the meeting, but I will admit I was thrilled beyond description to be included. The meeting was set in a lovely conference room in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building (next to the West Wing) with all of us circled around the room. Speakers came and went, giving us a chance to hear about initiatives that are taking place; ask questions about the issue at hand; and share our ideas, thoughts or insights.
The conversation ranged widely; it was often quite lively and sometimes confrontational. Most of the subjects were difficult to really cover adequately, so everyone tended to be direct, speak quickly, and cover wide swaths of topics. This is no surprise when you consider we covered energy policies, access to capital, gasoline prices, education, manufacturing technologies, and entitlements.
There were, however, some very exciting bright spots we had a chance to hear about:
• There are efforts in place to provide additional lending to small business through cash infusions to banks, as well as some strategic loosening of regulations that inhibit banks.
• The government does seem to realize that our healthcare system, as it works today, is unsustainable.
• Real and effective innovation in education can’t happen if there isn’t a system in place that allows for innovation and new technologies to emerge.
But the most exciting part of the meeting was the final speaker.
Todd Park, a hyper-energetic, data-driven, self-made, billionaire entrepreneur, shared his story of being recruited from a life of semi-retirement to work for the government in Health and Human Services.
Park worked his way to being named chief technology officer and assistant to the president. He told the story of how he helped develop and implement a program that spurred hundreds of people to create startups based on publicly released data about the U.S. health care system, as well as health-related demographics of the population. Software programs, applications, and new data technologies have taken off in 2011 and 2012, and more is expected to come.
Now the administration is considering releasing many more reams of data on a variety of topics, again, with the expectation that American ingenuity and innovation will take over and create more new businesses as a result.
Watching this dyed-in-the-wool entrepreneur almost hop out of his seat in excitement over the business-creation initiative was truly an inspiring moment in a day filled with debate and discussion of some very dark, troubling issues.
This experience made me reflect on that conversation with my son; it’s a topic most of us have thought of and discussed. Yes, there is much to worry about; there are many bad things happening for which we have no ready solution.
Yet despite all of that, there are some promising efforts being made, and, as Ari Matusiak, head of the White House Business Council, said in closing, I believe the best years of our history are ahead of us.
About Maggie Harlow: Maggie Harlow, an alumnus of Atherton High School and Indiana University, owns Transworld Business Advisors and Sign-A-rama franchises in Louisville. In addition to be a businesswoman, Harlow also is a civic leader, education advocate and a member of the Louisville chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners. She’s also a member of the Leadership Louisville Class of 2012.