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The Weekly Dispatch: Obama Touts Small Business Innovation, Cleveland-Style

The Dispatch scours the Web every Monday to find must-read news that affects you and your business, and what it really means. Here's what I'm reading this week.

1. Obama highlights innovation, Cleveland-style

The takeaway: The president and members of his cabinet will meet with 100 small business leaders at an economic forum today in Cleveland, a city that remade and reinvested in itself after suffering massive manufacturing job losses when the industry waned. For the first time in 30 years, unemployment and productivity rates in Cleveland are about the same as the rest of the country, instead of much worse, and Obama will use Cleveland's successes to try to sell his plan for public investment in infrastructure, technology and innovation, and education.

The meeting is also a major nod to small business, which has complained that the 2012 budget plan ignores small business priorities, and that Obama's new focus on business interests since the 112th Congress took office has really only benefited major companies. (I'll keep you posted on what comes out of the meeting.)

2. Small business bankruptcies fall 18%
The takeaway: Small business bankruptcy filings fell by 18 percent year over year in the fourth quarter of 2010, according to a new report released by Equifax. The filings have been dropping for six straight quarters, and experts say the change has been fueled by increased consumer spending and better borrowing requirements.

Unfortunately, the same can't be said for consumers, who have been hit harder by the collapse of the housing market, and haven't been able to pick up new jobs because companies are still hesitant to hire. The filing rate for consumers only dropped one percent year over year.

3. At Silicon Valley dinner, Obama toasts U.S. ingenuity
The takeaway: Few details have been released from Obama's California dinner with tech superstars like Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, Apple's Steve Jobs, and Google's Eric Schmidt, but we do know the president discussed ways the government can help the private sector to fuel economic growth, as well as the "Win the Future" plan he outlined in his State of the Union address. And that he enjoys watching sports clips on YouTube.

4. Small business lending plan comes up short, Administration says
The takeaway: The $30 billion Small Business Lending Fund was supposed to funnel federal money to small banks to encourage them to start loaning to small business, but in the end, only about half of the money has been spent. The reason? Smaller banks are reluctant to take federal money, when the rules of the game can change after the fact (as they did in the Troubled Asset Relief Program). There's also no guarantee that banks will start making loans once they get the money, and some may need it to shore up bad assets instead.

Earlier this month, the Special Inspector General for TARP said it would audit the fund.

5. America's 10 most helpful small business mentoring centers
The takeaway: The SBA's Small Business Development Centers across the country help entrepreneurs raise capital, make sound decisions, develop business plans, and figure out marketing strategies. As their funding gets cut as part of Obama's 2010 budget proposal, check out the 10 most helpful across the country, and see what they specialize in.

6. Restaurants start to harness power of iPads
The takeaway: Who needs menus when you can have an iPad? Restaurants in New York and California are pitching the device as a way for customers to customize their restaurant experience -- and their burgers. A local restaurant chain in Torrence, Calif., is using the devices to let customers order their own pizzas, salads and burgers to their exact specifications. Maybe it's not exactly a romantic dining experience, but so far, owners say, it's been great for marketing.

(Image courtesy Flickr user The Cleveland Kid, CC 2.0)

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