Prioritize racial and gender equity in small businesses as part of economic recovery – The Seattle Times | Region & Cash

Since the pandemic began, the US Small Business Administration (SBA) has been working to save the country’s small businesses. In Washington state alone, the agency provided more than $11 billion in economic assistance and made 178,000 loans and grants to businesses. This presents a tremendous opportunity for our agency to build on these new relationships with business owners and identify other programs and tools to help them grow, thrive and become more resilient.

My father owned a Chinese restaurant in Post Falls, Idaho in the late 1980’s. Business was booming for a few years, until a road construction project on his doorstep uprooted not only the street but also his restaurant. The road closure caused a dramatic drop in customers and eventually it had to close. Unforeseen circumstances are a fact of life for small business owners and entrepreneurs, but no one anticipated the global upheaval we have seen since the first confirmed COVID-19 case was diagnosed in our country here in 2020.

This has been a challenge of a lifetime for our small business and its employees. We’ve seen some of our favorite shops, restaurants, and arts and entertainment venues close while others still falter. Recently, a new report found that historically underrepresented communities were disproportionately likely to experience closures, declines in sales, or a drop in customer numbers during the pandemic than other businesses. Undoubtedly, these findings are related to the pre-pandemic realities facing Black, Latino and women-owned businesses, compounded during the public health crisis.

The Biden-Harris Administration and SBA Administrator Isabel Guzman have a clear vision: to prioritize equity as part of recovery and ensure entrepreneurs from all communities have equal access to the agency’s many financial, business training and contracting programs.

There are three priority areas where we can make progress by working with partner organizations inside and outside government. The first is access to capital. We know this is critical for all businesses, especially those owned by women, communities of color and veterans. SBA has several very effective financing programs that help small businesses finance working capital, building acquisitions and exports. The agency’s loan programs help borrowers who may not have the necessary credit or security to obtain a traditional loan from a commercial lender. The SBA’s financial programs are critical to strengthening underserved communities across the state.

The second priority is to break down barriers to our programs by reestablishing and building new relationships with local community partners. During the pandemic, we have worked with numerous resource partners and other organizations to provide technical assistance and access to COVID-19 relief programs. The SBA’s new Community Navigators pilot is funding organizations across the country—trusted advocates—to break down barriers in underserved communities to accessing SBA funding and government-supported programs. In our region we will conduct several pilot tests using this model.

The third area is preparing our local small businesses to access, compete and secure new revenue opportunities through public procurement. In 2021, the federal government purchased more than $25 billion worth of goods and services from Pacific Northwest-based companies, of which $8.5 billion went to our small businesses. With the now enacted bipartisan infrastructure bill, even more dollars will soon be available. The proportion of federal procurement spending that goes to Blacks, Hispanics, Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders, and women and rural-owned businesses is significantly underrepresented compared to the total number of US-owned businesses. We need to help them get fair access to those contracts and get certified and qualified for those dollars.

We have shown that we can provide an incredible safety net for our community under exceptional circumstances during the COVID-19 crisis. I know we can do the same thing on purpose if we raise equity if we build back better.

Author: Amine

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