Starbucks CEO calls on Americans to put America back to work

WristbandsThere's a new item on Starbucks menus that has nothing to do with caffeine but might be something of an eye-opener nonetheless: red-white-and-blue bracelets.

Starbucks Chief Executive Howard Schultz says the bracelets could make a dent in the nation's unemployment.

In a joint conference call Tuesday with BlogHer, the vast blogging network by and for women, he said it's time for Americans to take care of America. "We can't wait for Washington," he said. "We need to step up."

Small businesses are the lifeblood of the economy, he said, but are being stymied by banks that won't extend them credit. Giving small businesses a cash infusion to help them get on their way, or get back on their feet, will in turn create jobs.

That's what the bracelets are ultimately intended to do. Schultz explained the premise behind them during the conference call. (The company also released a video look, below, at how the new venture will work.)

The bracelets will be handed out in stores or online with each donation of $5 or more. Schultz said that 100% of the proceeds will go to Create Jobs for USA, a new partnership launched by Starbucks and the Opportunity Finance Network.

The partnership aims to create a nationwide fund for small business loans -- and fuel a new generation of entrepreneurs. Starbucks will provide $5 million in seed money. BlogHer is also partnering with the project, donating $5 for each of the first 2,000 posts on the topic in its blogging network.

Schultz said all businesses and business ideas that "have a reason and a purpose" are encouraged to apply for loans. Nonprofits are also welcome, he said, adding that a nursery and a painting company are among the early ideas. 

We contacted the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the U.S. Small Business Assn. for their reaction, but did not hear back from them by the time this post was published.

Schultz said he has been frustrated with politicians who seem bent on playing politics instead of helping those who are struggling. "As I look at what is happening in America ... the gap between the haves and the have-nots is getting wider and wider." He said he's been wondering: "'How can Starbucks use our scale for good?'"

The new venture comes as Schultz is increasingly becoming embroiled in issues that go beyond Starbucks' doors, such as calling out U.S. political leaders for creating a "crisis of confidence" and calling on other chief executives to stop contributing to political campaigns until politicians embrace financial discipline and stop with all the bickering.

"I don't in any way think we are going to reverse the 9% unemployment level ... but we can make a difference," Schultz said.

BlogHer co-founder Lisa Stone asked Schultz whether the coffee giant's shareholders felt the same. He said he had their support, but added that businesses need to strike a balance between "profitability and a social conscience."

It can't hurt that consumers who walk out with a bracelet on their wrist probably also have a cup of coffee in one hand -- or both.

 

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--Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch

Photo credit: Starbucks

 
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Rene Lynch has been an editor and writer in Metro, Sports, Business, Calendar and Food. @ReneLynch

As an editor and reporter, Michael Muskal has covered local, national, economic and foreign issues at three newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times. @latimesmuskal


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