Between the ugly debt ceiling fight and the latest 9.2 percent unemployment stats, attitudes on Capitol Hill about the job market and the economy have been dismal, to say the least. But Wednesday, in the Senate Caucus Room, the mood was completely different.
Dozens of young entrepreneurs and CEOs—who together represent more than 7,000 jobs—gathered in Washington to celebrate the launch of Buy Young, an initiative geared up by the nonprofit group Our Time that connects young people with businesses started by their under-30 peers. House members and senators, like Arizona Republican John McCain and New York Democrat Chuck Schumer, literally lined up to share their optimistic message: that despite the challenges facing our country and its economy, now is the time for young people in America to make things happen, both in business and politics.
"I see a group of bold and innovative leaders that can and will outperform the generation that came before them," said Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. "I see a room brimming with possibilities for jobs and businesses of tomorrow, and it makes me very optimistic for the future."
Our Time—whose membership is more than 300,000—is run by a handful of 20-somethings, including co-founders Matt Segal and Jarrett Moreno, as a sort of AARP for Americans under 30. They hope that their Buy Young project, which offers online deals from young companies for anyone who signs up on the Our Time website, will both promote these businesses nationwide and bring in money to fuel their advocacy in Washington.
"I'm really a Matt Segal groupie," said Illinois Democratic Rep. Jan Schakowsky, who used the occasion to pump up her party's "Make It In America" campaign, which aims to bring manufacturing jobs back to the United States. She and many of her Capitol Hill colleagues promised to work so that more access to capital would be available to small business owners in the future. "Thank you for helping us dig out of this economic ditch we've been in," she told the crowd.
Senators used the podium to plug their states' own rising young entrepreneurs. Gillibrand, for example, gave props to the New York-based Gilt Groupe, a fast-growing online retail company. And Michigan Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow shouted out to her state's young entrepreneurs of the past, like Louis Upton, who created what would become Whirlpool when he was 25, or Herbert Henry Dow, who was just 30 when he founded the Dow Chemical Company.
Members of Congress also highlighted the possibilities that new and social media are bringing to the generation's young hopefuls around the world. Tapping his foreign affairs background, McCain gave the example of the young fruit-seller in Tunisia who lit the flame of the Arab Spring, saying that it was the young generation that was responsible for the events. "That Arab Spring was carried out by young people, not old geezers like me," he said. "That was carried out because of your ability to social network."
Attendees at the day-long launch summit, which included a trip to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the White House, also heard from business gurus like Barry Diller, CEO of InterActiveCorp, and Ed Rensi, former president and CEO of McDonald's.