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White House plans Asian American economic summit in St. Paul

The Biden administration will hold an economic summit for Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander entrepreneurs in St. Paul next week, part of its push to address barriers facing historically disadvantaged communities.

The summit is the seventh regional gathering of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders and will also include a listening session for community members with the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders. Both events take place at Metro State University on Tuesday, July 2.

KaYing Yang, the commission’s sole Minnesota member, said the regional summit will provide federal officials with a better understanding of the challenges faced by local entrepreneurs while also offering resources to small businesses. 

“They can see the vibrancy of our community, but also see some of the innovation that small businesses are creating here,” said Yang, a nonprofit consultant and president of RedGreen Rivers.

Language barriers and lack of outreach have held back many Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander entrepreneurs from accessing federal jobs, grants and other programs, the commission said, in announcing the summit.

In 2020, about 10% of small businesses in the U.S. were owned by members of the AANHPI community, but only 2.8% of federal contracting dollars went to those businesses, according to U.S. Small Business Administration data supplied by the commission.

The economic summit offers a small business track to help business owners access federal contracting, capital, counseling and education resources.

It also has a community track that will include the listening session with members of the president’s advisory commission.

The series of summits was spurred by a May 2022 recommendation from the commission, which is co-chaired by Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and Katherine Tai, the U.S. trade representative.

Yang, who came to the U.S. at age 7 as a Hmong refugee, said serving on the commission has been eye-opening.

“It’s been a lot of work, but a lot of joy as well, to get to know each other and to know the issues across the country,” she said.

Some of the issues Yang has discussed with the commission include health equity and immigration.

According to her, Minnesota has many highly skilled South and East Asian immigrants working for the tech industry and other companies who qualify for H-1 visas, but it also has a large refugee community from Southeast Asia that faces many different challenges. 

Yang said the commission has submitted more than 70 recommendations to the Biden administration.

At the July 2 listening session, commissioners have requested public feedback on anti-Asian hate, better data sets on various Asian communities, economic equity, language access, and immigration.

The community track sessions will focus on how collaboration across sectors and communities has been an essential and powerful tool to advance equity, justice and opportunity.

Yang said the commission is made up of individuals from all over the country and from different backgrounds in an effort to have more inclusion, but hearing from the public still helps them highlight different issues to the president. 

“Sometimes they [the public] introduce new ideas that we haven’t thought about, or new issues that we didn’t know were impacting the community,” she said.

The commission meets about four times a year and has been authorized through the fall of 2025.