Camilo Ferro is a lucky man. The Miami transplant, who now calls Chicago home, was flown out to LinkedIn's headquarters in Mountainview, California, to have an intimate conversation with President Barack Obama on Monday about the American Jobs Act, the economy, and the entrepreneurial spirit in general.
Ferro was one of 16 such individuals, and he's an entrepreneur's entrepreneur: He's launched multiple startups and hasn't lost the appetite for it. His current company, The Plastic Bag Solution, which seeks to help eliminate those eco-unfriendly sacks, got noticed by LinkedIn and led to his coveted invite.
I gave Ferro a call to discuss how Monday's event went down, what he asked the president, and whether Obama's message of hope is still ringing out.
What were your impressions of yesterday's event?
Camilo Ferro: President Obama wanted to get more jobs to Americans and he involved LinkedIn. LinkedIn reached out to myself and 15 other members and flew us out to San Francisco and invited us to have a conversation amongst ourselves and talk about the economy, business, and jobs as well as speaking with the president. We had a question-answer with the president regarding jobs. I was one of the fortunate few to have been selected by LinkedIn.
Why were you selected by LinkedIn, do you think? And how did you find out?
Camilo Ferro: [Laughs.] It's crazy because it happened really fast. I got an e-mail last Wednesday from one of their marketing managers. We didn't know it was involving the president. From what I understand as to why I was selected, it has to do with different reasons, like my transition in careers. I was in a different business before this, and I was doing an advertising/media company, and the fact that I'm a business owner.
What is Obama's stance on small businesses?
Camilo Ferro: He's definitely pushing for it and he sees a big opportunity with them. He understands how this country was built on entrepreneurship. He started an organization called Startup America Partnership, and that's actually been very helpful for myself and others for connecting the dots between venture capitalists, angel investors, a lot of non-profits that are looking to help businesses as well, and that's helped me out tremendously. He's trying to get as many tax cuts and tax breaks as he can. He's trying to do the hiring breaks, so if you hire certain individuals either veterans or disabled veterans, you can help them out financially with a couple of thousand dollars per employee that you hire.
What did you get a chance to ask Obama about, and were you satisfied with his answers?
Camilo Ferro: Unfortunately due to time constraints I couldn't ask him my question. Was I satisfied with his answers? Yes. He's working on getting Americans back to work, and there are a lot of entrepreneurs who have businesses -- we just need access to certain help and certain advice from those who have been there and done that, and that's what Startup America has been helping with. But he got straight to the point and knows what he needs to do. He's trying to work with that.
In the forum itself, one of the Google execs stood up basically begged [Obama] to make raise his taxes and pay more taxes. It needs to happen in order for the country to develop.
One of the things that he touched based upon that hit me a little bit more than the others was how our country's -- how in the last 30 or 40 years, the people who are successful now is because of the programs put in place. If we don't continue to do that and educate and invest in technology, 10 or 15 years from now we're not going to be able to progress the way other countries are.
What was it that you wanted to ask him about but didn't get a chance to?
Camilo Ferro: Manufacturing. I want to get to a point where I can manufacture my bags in Chicago directly and what tax breaks or incentives we were going to get on the sustainable part, but also on the social enterprise. My goal ideally would be to set up the manufacturing in Chicago but also work with veterans or disabled who were looking for jobs.
With the economy being so depressing lately, can you share any good news Obama offered on that front?
Camilo Ferro: Well, the American Jobs Act. He talked about how he knows there are Republicans in the Congress that know this has to happen. This isn't about politics; this is about people. That's reassuring to know.