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Commerce Chief: Immigrants Can Rebuild Country

posted on: Oct 7, 2009

Speaking in Dearborn on Tuesday to about 60 Arab-American and religious leaders, U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said that metro Detroiters with roots in the Middle East can help grow the economy but sometimes face problems with discrimination.

Drawing upon his experiences as the son of Chinese immigrants, Locke said, “We are all immigrants except for the Native Americans … America owes a great debt to Arab-Americans and people of the Islamic faith.”

Noting that many Arab-Americans are small-business owners, Locke said: “We need to unleash the power of entrepreneurs.”

To that end, Locke unveiled the department’s first-in-the-nation “Commerce Connection” office, a one-stop shop in Plymouth for businesses to access all the federal government has to offer, from research and development tools to grants and to licensing assistance.

“Too few businesses actually know of the existence of some of our programs, because you needed a GPS system to navigate the federal bureaucracy,” Locke said.

Shereef Akeel, an Arab-American attorney who attended the event, said racial profiling “created a climate of fear” that affects the economic activity of Arab-Americans.

Locke replied: “You’re quite right … there is a lot of stereotyping going on.” He said the behavior hurts economic development.

Locke’s visit was the latest in a string of meetings with Arab-Americans in Dearborn with department heads in the Obama administration.

He also met with the Midwest Governors Association and said the administration’s focus is on economic recovery that includes more jobs.

Niraj Warikoo
Detroit Free Press