Thank you, Rev. Sharpton, and thank you to the National Action Network for your tireless work advancing civil rights and expanding opportunity for everyone in America.
It’s an honor to be here today to talk about the work we’ve done and the work ahead of us to create a better, more equal, more prosperous United States of America.
Now, I am the Secretary of Commerce. And we do a lot of things within Commerce, from the weather service and fisheries to semiconductors, lasers and broadband internet.
But when I became Secretary, I asked our team to add the phrase “for all communities” to our mission, as an explicit reminder to our nearly 50,000 employees that every community, including those that have been historically left behind, need a chance to share in the jobs and prosperity that we create in the Biden Administration.
If the work we’re doing leaves behind pockets of America or doesn’t reach into the communities that need us the most, we aren’t doing our jobs. We will only be successful when we expand growth and opportunity…for ALL communities.
From our biggest grant programs to the routine actions we take every day, equity underpins everything that we do at the Commerce Department. It is not just the right thing to do – it’s the right thing to do for our economy. America’s diversity is a competitive advantage, but only if everyone has an opportunity to participate in our economy and fulfill their potential.
Thanks to the leadership of President Biden and Vice President Harris, we are already seeing results. Last week’s jobs data showed that the employment gap between white and Black workers is the smallest it has been in nearly 50 years. This is an important milestone, but it is not enough. At the Commerce Department we are continuing to make investments that will provide high-quality jobs for all Americans, and close this gap for good.
Our approach to investment is grounded in people and places. The goal is to leverage our country’s diversity and translate that into a competitive advantage that will ensure a prosperous future.
Last summer, we announced awardees for two new programs – the Good Jobs Challenge and the Build Back Better Regional Challenge – which together are investing $1.5 billion in workforce development and regional industries.
I had the privilege of visiting North Carolina A&T, our nation’s largest HBCU, to announce a $23 million Good Jobs Challenge award. It’s funding a project that’s bringing together educational institutions, local organizations, and 40 private sector employers in the clean energy industry to offer targeted training and thousands of job placements across 17 distressed counties, including ten that encompass “Black Belt” rural communities.
It’s an example of how the Good Jobs Challenge is building a first-of-its-kind talent pipeline that will address the labor shortage and place 50,000 American workers in good jobs.
It’s also a model for how Commerce will handle the nearly $50 billion from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to bring high-speed internet to every American.
Forty percent of Black households don’t have high-speed internet. This is a clear barrier to economic opportunity in communities that have been underserved for far too long. It’s past time that we close this digital divide. And it’s not enough for it to be accessible – it needs to be affordable too. Thank you to the National Action Network for your efforts in this important work. And I want to recognize Vice President Harris, who will be here shortly, for her tremendous leadership on the Administration’s broadband efforts as well.
As we prepare to release this $50 billion in funding, we need your help to make sure we close the digital divide in every state, in every city, and in every community. Right now, governors and broadband offices around the country are working on plans for how they’re going to spend these funds. To succeed, we need everyone to make their voice heard. Please visit InternetforAll.gov to find out how to get involved.
We are also working to clear the way to success for minority entrepreneurs. Black women are one of the fastest growing groups of entrepreneurs – they are the engine of our economy. By jumpstarting the next generation of enterprises, we will spur innovation, close the racial wealth gap and help build a more resilient economy.
I am proud that Commerce is home to the Minority Business Development Agency, the only Federal agency dedicated to supporting minority-owned businesses, enterprises, and entrepreneurs. Under the Biden Administration, MBDA was made a permanent part of the federal government, and the Senate unanimously confirmed Don Cravins Jr. to be the agency’s first-ever Under Secretary. This is a testament to the work MBDA has been doing for decades, and the importance of helping minority entrepreneurs launch and scale their businesses.
Because of the investments we’re making today under the leadership of President Biden and Vice President Harris, there will be job opportunities in the coming years across America that have the potential to change lives, provide family-sustaining benefits, and lead to long-term careers. It’s on all of us to ensure that everyone has a shot at these jobs.
I’m excited about what we can accomplish. If we work hard and work together, we can strengthen our communities, fuel innovation and prosperity, and ensure America’s competitiveness in the 21st century.