U.S. Black Chambers Prez: Philly’s Black-owned businesses need help

The Center City District hosted a webinar on expanding Black and minority-owned business development in Philadelphia.Businesses located on 2200 block of Ridge Avenue in North Philadelphia are pictured (Philadelphia Tribune photo)

By Ayana Jones

PHILADELPHIA — A national chamber leader says intentional programs must be put in place to help Philadelphia’s Black-owned businesses recover from the coronavirus pandemic’s economic fallout.

“Historically when we’re talked about challenges for Black businesses and Black communities, the solutions have always been about minority and inclusion, diversity programs,” U.S. Black Chambers, Inc. (USBC) President and CEO Ron Busby said during a webinar held Tuesday by the Center City District.

“You can’t say that all boats are going to rise when you’re painting a broad brush because when you include diversity programs, it’s not hitting the businesses in the communities that have been hit the hardest. Black businesses were hit twice as hard than any other ethnic community in America so in this particular point in time, it has to be intentional. It can’t be about minority. It’s got to be about Black.”

Busby’s focus on intentionality comes as the nation lost an estimated 40% of Black-owned businesses due to the pandemic.

He highlighted the need for Black-owned businesses to be certified so that they can bid on corporate and government contracts. Busby says its challenging for these firms to receive certification through the federal government’s 8 (a) program or agencies such as the Minority Supplier Development Council.

The Washington, D.C.-based USBC has launched a new certification Buy Black platform to inform corporations, government agencies and consumers about where to find Black-owned businesses.

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Busby spoke on banks ensuring that these businesses have access to capital. He noted that many Black firms experienced challenges in obtaining pandemic assistance through the federal Paycheck Protection Program.

“Many of our small businesses weren’t able to compete for the Paycheck Protection (Program) not because they were financially illiterate or they didn’t have the paperwork, they just didn’t understand the process and they didn’t have the relationships with the banking institutions,” Busby said.

“For our local chambers, as well as elected officials it is extremely important to make sure that there are relationships for your financial institutions to make sure that they partner with local Black owned businesses so that they can have sustainability.”

Busby spoke about the importance of government entities paying contractors promptly, as some firms have had to wait 120 days to be paid.

“If a local state or city government has an opportunity to provide a contract, what we have asked is that there be a net 15-day payment plan,” he explained.

“That would allow many Black-owned business to continue to prosper, not just through tough times but as well through good times.”

Della Clark, president and CEO of The Enterprise Center (TEC), spoke about the organization’s efforts to deploy capital to local minority-owned businesses.

The center partnered with Brandywine Realty Trust to to provide one-percent interest loans to construction-related firms that were impacted by the pandemic.

“Once these businesses pay us back we will re-loan that money at one percent to new clients that need it and this is what we need in Philadelphia,” Clark said. “We need other people to step up, who have some cash reserve and allow us to use that money to help our small businesses stay in business and recover during this time because it is so, so important.”

TEC was also instrumental in deploying close $20 million in PPP funding to predominately minority-owned businesses in the region.

Clark thinks Philadelphia places too much emphasis on enrolling minority-owned businesses in training initiatives and programs.

“I really want Philadelphia to start to de-emphasize that myth that minority businesses need training in order to scale up,” she said. “The city is going to have to unleash more and more capital because it’s going to take more capital to really turn around minority enterprises.”

Jerry Sweeney, president & CEO of Brandywine Realty Trust, addressed the company’s efforts to provide capital to Black business owners, help firms build their capacity and spearhead job growth through its real estate developments.

He thinks that Philadelphia is tired of being a city of unrealized potential.

“There is opportunity here for everybody,” Sweeney said. “We need extraordinarily strong public leadership [and] an actively engaged business community to make sure that we lay out a very clear agenda and part of that is really really fundamentally reexamining some of the foundational points that have gotten the city to the state that it’s in right now.”

Steven Scott Bradley, chairman of the African American Chamber of Commerce of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware encouraged city officials to make the Philadelphia more business friendly and to use their platform to encourage educational and medical institutions to partner with Black-owned companies.

The webinar follows the CCD/CPDC report, Getting More Philadelphians Back to Work: Business Density and the Role of Black and Minority Owned Businesses. The report found that among five East Coast cities, Philadelphia has both the lowest number of Black-owned firms in relation to the total number of Black residents and the lowest number of all businesses in relation to its total population.

Paul Levy, CCD president and CEO said the report concluded the pandemic caused a huge spike in unemployment across all sectors but Black businesses and residents have been disproportionately challenged.

“The conclusion we reached is recovery for Black businesses, for all businesses, isn’t simply a return to status quo,” Levy said, noting that prior to the pandemic, Philadelphia was in the midst of a slow job growth.

“Getting back to status quo pre-COVID is not good enough. Just as Black businesses face a double challenge so does Philadelphia recovery. We need to rebound. We need to grow faster and more inclusively then in the last decade. We require faster growth of Black-owned businesses and business of all kinds.”

Ayana Jones is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.