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Supporting entrepreneurs and small businesses must be a national priority

Commentary
By Connie Evans (Americas Wire Writers Group)

Television producer NelyGalán and supermodel Beverly Johnson promote minority small businesses. Photo credit: Ashleigh A.M. Bing

Television producer NelyGalán and supermodel Beverly Johnson promote minority small businesses. Photo credit: Ashleigh A.M. Bing

WASHINGTON, D.C.– After Noemi Prado devoted 29 years to working for Southwest Moulding in Grand Prairie, Texas, the owners decided to close the business.

But Prado gathered her retirement savings and other financing to purchase the company, a transaction that has sustained and created jobs for 40 people in her community.

A key aspect of the financing was a $825,000 loan that she received from the Valley Economic Development Corporation (VEDC), a non-profit organization that provides affordable business assistance services.

“If it wasn’t for VEDC, it wouldn’t have happened,” saidPrado, noting that it was difficult to obtain traditional bank financing.

Data collected by the Association for Enterprise Opportunity (AEO) shows that a large percentage of people want to be like Prado and run their own businesses. At the same time, however, many would-be entrepreneurs lack the access to mentors, capital and support networks that could help them get up and running.

That’s the problem our nation faces.

Small businesses are actually creating a higher percentage of new jobs than big companies, but entrepreneurs and small business owners struggle to get the access to capital and the knowledge, known as “trusted guidance” in the microbusiness industry that they need to start or sustain their businesses. The reality is that significant barriers limit opportunities for business owners of color. They face discrimination in the banking world, have fewer wealth assets, and often lack the technical skills to make their dreams and aspirations come true.

Yet, there have been new developments that are slowly changing the landscape for minority entrepreneurs and small business owners.

Perhaps the most powerful is the changing demographics of the country, which corporate and government leaders are starting to better understand. The nation is moving towards a majority-minority status. Already, the majority of children born in the country are children of color. Thus, it’s clear that the nation must become more inclusive with business opportunities or the pockets of poverty across the country will just grow larger. And, smart corporate leaders recognize that the growing communities of color are where future growth and expansions of their businesses should concentrate for sustained growth.

Certainly, part of the answer lies with Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) that are getting more attention than ever from both the public and private sectors. These mission-based organizations, which receive federal resources to invest in disadvantaged communities, are frequently where minority business owners turn when they need financing. But needless to say, the demand frequently outpaces their money supply.

The positives are the collaborations now taking place between major banking institutions and CDFIs and other organizations, such as VEDC.

For instance, this year JPMorgan Chase. announced a Small Business Forward initiative, which will allocate $30 million over five years towards growing local, community-based small businesses. The program includes a combination of targeted lending to minority-owned businesses, innovative community development financing and technical assistance for entrepreneurs. Through this work, JPMorgan Chase is helping minority- and community-based small business owners become engines of job growth and economic vitality in the neighborhoods they serve.

At a recent event in Washington, D.C. that AEO co-sponsored with JP Morgan Chase, Janis Bowdler, their head of community development for Global Philanthropy, put the institution’s thinking in perspective.

“As the economy recovers, much of the growth is often channeled toward reviving commercial corridors and downtowns in U.S. cities,” saidBowdler. “As a result, many disadvantaged neighborhoods, where underserved people live, are being left behind.”

A broad range of organizations are recognizing the power of “inclusive entrepreneurship,” which will help bring equity to communities and Main Streets across the nation.

Clearly, various partnerships and collaborations can help minorities overcome the barriers. Empowered mission-based community lenders are working with underserved entrepreneurs to help them build and sustain businesses that can fuel financial and social mobility, and create jobs that are boosting the economy – locally and nationally.

We must make supporting entrepreneurs and small businesses a national priority.

Connie Evans is president and CEO of Association for Enterprise Opportunity.

October 6, 2016
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