Cantwell Introduces Bill to Help Small Business Leverage AI Tools

Education-focused bill would give WA small businesses the skillset to thrive in era of rapid AI development; Small businesses account for 99.5% of businesses in WA and employ 1.4 million workers

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, and U.S. Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS), a senior member of the committee, introduced the bipartisan Small Business Artificial Intelligence Training and Toolkit Act of 2024 that would authorize the U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC) to work with the Small Business Administration (SBA) to create and distribute artificial intelligence (AI) training resources and tools to help small businesses leverage AI in their operations.

“Small businesses are the foundation of the U.S. economy, making up 99 percent of all businesses,” said Sen. Cantwell. “They drive economic growth and innovation. It is essential that all American entrepreneurs – especially our small businesses – have access to AI training and reskilling in the 21st-century marketplace. This bill gives small businesses a boost with new tools to thrive as we step into this innovative era.”

The State of Washington is home to 644,868 small businesses, making up 99.5 percent of all WA businesses and employing 1.4 million workers. Between March 2021 and March 2022, small businesses created 161,791 new jobs, accounting for 86.2 percent of all job creation in WA.

According to a report by the Bipartisan Policy Center and Morning Consult, 83% of small business owners in the United States who use AI in their business say it has been helpful to their company, and they used the technology for accounting, customer communication, social media, and to reduce paperwork and streamline tasks.  The DOC’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) provides technical assistance to small and medium-sized businesses to improve their use of technology. NIST’s Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership also provides technical resources and other assistance to small and medium-sized manufacturing companies.

The Small Business Artificial Intelligence Training and Toolkit Act of 2024:

  • Develops AI training resources and toolkits for small businesses, led by the DOC, in coordination with the SBA.
  • Includes new trainings on how to use AI or emerging technologies to improve financial management and accounting, business planning and operations, marketing, supply chain management, government contracting, and exporting. It also directs specific AI training for small businesses in rural and tribal communities, and small businesses involved in advanced manufacturing.
  • Provides new DOC AI training resources to small businesses through SBA resource partners, including Small Business Development Centers, Women’s Business Centers, SCORE, Veteran Business Opportunity Centers, and the Apex Accelerator.
  • Authorizes the DOC Secretary to create a grant program for organizations providing AI trainings developed under this bill. It allows gift authority to use private sector and philanthropic donations to support these grants, with at least 25% of any grant funds going toward small businesses located in rural or underserved communities.
  • Requires the Secretary of Commerce to update AI training materials and toolkits at least every two years.
  • Requires biannual reporting to Congress on the impact of AI training and toolkits developed and distributed under this bill.

"The commitment to updating AI training materials and prioritizing grants for rural and underserved communities under the Small Business Artificial Intelligence Training and Toolkit Act of 2024 mirrors AEO's dedication to inclusive economic growth. By leveraging our extensive network and deep-rooted market knowledge, we can help ensure that these new tools and resources effectively support the unique needs of underserved entrepreneurs, creating a more robust and inclusive marketplace,” said Natalie Madeira Cofield, President and CEO of the Association for Enterprise Opportunity (AEO).

"The Small Business Artificial Intelligence Training and Toolkit Act of 2024 is a monumental step forward for small businesses, providing them with crucial AI tools and training. At ECDI, we are dedicated to supporting entrepreneurs from all backgrounds, and this Act ensures that every entrepreneur, regardless of their location or circumstances, has access to the technology and training they need to thrive,” said Inna Kinney, Founder and CEO of the Economic & Community Development Institute.

"The Small Business Artificial Intelligence Training and Toolkit Act of 2024 is an essential initiative that will strengthen Black-owned businesses and promote Black enterprise. By directing resources and training to underserved communities, this Act helps level the playing field, giving Black entrepreneurs the tools they need to access capital, enhance their business planning, and achieve sustained growth,” said Ron Busby, CEO of the U.S. Black Chambers, Inc. (USBC).

“Supporting small businesses with advanced AI tools and training is vital for fostering inclusive communities of opportunity. The Small Business Artificial Intelligence Training and Toolkit Act of 2024 will help create great places to live, work, and do business by empowering local entrepreneurs with the resources they need to succeed,” said Matt Josephs, Senior Vice President for Policy of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC).

"National Asian/Pacific Islander American Chamber of Commerce and Entrepreneurship (National ACE) supports the ‘Small Business Artificial Intelligence Training and Toolkit Act of 2024,’ introduced by Senator Cantwell. This legislation represents a crucial first step for small businesses to learn about deploying AI to enhance their operations. Furthermore, National ACE is pleased that these resources will be accessible to underserved communities, ensuring that traditionally overlooked entrepreneurs can benefit from new tools and resources,” said Chiling Tong, President and CEO of National ACE.

"The Small Business Artificial Intelligence Training and Toolkit Act of 2024 represents a powerful collaboration between the Department of Commerce, SBA, and private sector partners, aimed at supporting women entrepreneurs. By providing up-to-date AI training and dedicating significant resources to rural and underserved communities, this Act ensures that women business owners have the tools they need to innovate, grow, and lead in today's economy,” said Corinne Goble, CEO of the Association of Women’s Business Centers.

"Women Impacting Public Policy (WIPP) is pleased to support the ‘‘Small Business Artificial Intelligence Training and Toolkit Act of 2024," introduced by Senator Cantwell. We know that AI is a powerful tool for small businesses, however, we know that small business owners lack the knowledge and understanding of how AI can be deployed. We applaud efforts to educate and inform small business owners on how best to deploy AI to support their operations. WIPP is also pleased to see that legislation specifically highlights the importance of ensuring these resources are provided to businesses in rural, tribal, and underserved communities,” said Angela Dingle, President and CEO of Women Impacting Public Policy. 

"The Small Business Artificial Intelligence Training and Toolkit Act of 2024 will significantly benefit women entrepreneurs by providing access to cutting-edge AI tools and training. This initiative aligns with Women in Toys, Licensing and Entertainment's dedication to supporting women leaders, offering them the resources and opportunities needed to drive positive change and success in our industry,” said Ehi Oviasu-Kahn, Chairwoman of the Board, Women in Toys, Licensing and Entertainment.

Today’s introduction follows Sens. Cantwell and Moran’s NSF AI Education Act, introduced last month, which aims to boost AI education opportunities with the National Science Foundation, expand student scholarships and fellowships for professional development, create AI guidance for K-12 teachers, and support new AI education hubs at community colleges.

Earlier this year, Sen. Cantwell introduced the Future of AI Innovation Act, which lays the foundation to maintain U.S. leadership in the global race to develop AI and other emerging technologies, and builds on her original legislation that created the National AI Advisory Committee (NAIAC).

In February, Sen. Cantwell held a roundtable with U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and tech and science leaders to discuss how the government and private sector can partner to safely drive AI Innovation. Sen. Cantwell was a lead architect and spearheaded the passage of the CHIPS and Science Act, which also directs the Department of Energy and NSF to identify and invest in ten key technology focus areas, including AI.

Last summer, Sen. Cantwell hosted an AI Summit in Seattle where two NAIAC members participated on the panel about the future of AI. Her summit also showcased AI ventures from nearly a dozen regional small businesses and university programs that demonstrated how AI is currently being used to better their industries.

Sen. Cantwell is also a senior member of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship.