"Your success is essential to achieve the lofty goals of America," Booker told a standing-room-only crowd.
Camden Mayor Dana L. Redd said she believed the New Jersey Economic Opportunity Act would bring more start-up businesses to Camden and create desperately needed jobs in a city where 14 percent of workers are unemployed.
Small businesses are "the lifeblood of our city," Redd said. Camden has seven business corridors, she said.
Signed into law by Gov. Christie in September, the Economic Opportunity Act provided $175 million for economic development projects in Camden and $600 million for qualified residential projects statewide, and allows companies to pursue tax credits to create jobs.
With the economy showing signs of improvement, many small-business owners are eager to take advantage of opportunities to grow.
But some attendees, such as Beverly Lucas, of Urbana International, said entrepreneurs face hurdles. She owns a tech business based in Camden and a crisis management information system firm.
"The biggest challenge for a small business is getting your foot in the door," said Lucas, who has been in business for 10 years. "I can sell. I just can't get into places."
George Parker, who operates a computer maintenance firm in Williamstown, said the forum was informative. His business, which has 10 employees, wants to hire more personnel and eventually branch beyond government contracts to the private sector.
"The small businesses are the ones hiring," Parker said. "It's very promising for us in terms of the future."
Friday's event focused on minority firms and was the first in a series of forums Booker plans to host around the state to help small business owners. The next one, slated for April 11, will focus on women business owners.