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Goldman CEO salutes grads of

Eight months have passed since the first graduates of Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses initiative received their diplomas at Long Island City’s LaGuardia Community College, but much has changed.

What began as a pilot program born between the partnership of the Wall Street powerhouse and the college at 31-10 Thomson Ave. that gave 23 small business owners throughout the city an education in growing their business, networking and mentorship has become a national program held not only in New York but also in Los Angeles; Long Beach, Calif.; New Orleans; and Houston.

LaGuardia’s second class has also increased, with 30 local business owners having graduated from the program this year.

“All of the graduates embody the ambition, diversity and sense of community that is the American Dream,” said Lloyd Blankfein, chairman and chief executive officer of Goldman Sachs, at the graduation held May 25.

The investment banking giant’s program is designed to help 10,000 small businesses in underserved areas grow throughout the next five years. Blankfein said so far 300 businesses have gone through the program.

Speakers at the graduation included Mayor Michael Bloomberg and MSNBC “Morning Joe” hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinksi.

“I do know what it’s like to be in charge of your own business, so I know how proud you all must feel today,” Bloomberg said.

The mayor said he would try to reduce bureaucracy and increase public safety and affordable housing to make the city a more attractive place for businesses to set up shop.

“I hope you make a lot of money and pay a lot of taxes,” Bloomberg said.

Scarborough said his father was a small business owner and taught him the importance of following a dream and saving money.

“You will have the thrill everyday of knowing that you have control of your own destiny,” Scarborough told the graduates.

Laura Catana, a graduate of the program, said she joined to help grow the full-service landscape design firm that she and her sister had inherited from her father, a Romanian immigrant who built it with a $700 loan. When her father died in 2006, she and her sister had to learn how to run the business by themselves.

After Catana got a degree in landscape design from Columbia University, she eventually took over the firm completely and jumped at the chance to participate in 10,000 Small Businesses.

“It’s been tremendous,” Catana said. “It taught me how to identify the core issues of my business and adjust them.”

Gail Mellow, president of LaGuardia Community College, said she believed the college had been chosen as the anchor school for this initiative because of the small business growth programs it offers such as the business incubator.

“I think he saw that we really had a sort of an outsized ambition in our community,” Mellow said of Blankfein.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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