John Kerry was in New Orleans today to address the National Black Chamber of Commerce. The visit was Kerry's third visit to Louisiana since Hurricane Katrina, and his second visit to New Orleans. Kerry is the Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship.
More than 400 business leaders from more than 30 states and several countries attended the conference, which was originally slated to be held in Atlanta and moved to New Orleans to help with the city's rebuilding efforts.
Kerry told Chamber members at a hotel Friday that access to capital funds remains one of the top obstacles to starting and building a small business, particularly for minorities.
In New Orleans and other devastated communities along the Gulf Coast, local and small business owners should be given first shot at federal contracts for recovery, along with bridge loans, he said.
"This is a matter of urgency, and it's a matter of common sense," Kerry said, noting that roughly 125,000 small to medium businesses along the Gulf Coast were disrupted by last year's storms.
Before addressing the Chamber, Kerry told reporters that he's disappointed so much of the city is still at a standstill and that piles of storm debris litter sidewalks.
"You still have such a low percentage of fundamental services," he said. "In order to make it possible for people to move back, you've got to clean up and you've got to have fundamental services."
Senator Mary Landrieu, D-La., who is also a member of the Senate Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship, joined John Kerry at the National Black Chamber of Commerce conference.
Barack Obama of Illinois, was also in New Orleans today, on his first visit to the area, since Hurricane Katrina.
The Text of John Kerry's speech is available here.