Minority entrepreneurs have been hit disproportionately hard by Covid-19, and the violence that has erupted since George Floyd was murdered in 2020. Black and brown businesses are still struggling to recover from the pandemic and have insufficient resources to grow. We asked candidates for Philadelphia's 100th Mayor, who are Black and Brown business owners, how they would support them.
What did Democrats Jeff Brown, Allan Domb and Helen Gym and Republicans David Oh have to say about their plans for growing the number of minority owned businesses in Philadelphia?
The interviews were conducted late in March, and the responses were edited to length and clarity.
How can the city align its racial statistics with the number of businesses owned by minorities?
Brown: I believe that many of our Black and brown small businesses could benefit from technical assistance. The city should fund an abundance of technical assistance to help small businesses, because most of those I have worked with are not properly incorporated, they aren't insured properly, and very few can tell me the cost of their product. It's not just Black or Brown. All small businesses are included, even if you have no business experience. Many of the building blocks for a successful company are things that need to be taught. It's easy. It's easy to teach and not expensive.
Second, if your business is promising, you will need equity financing. I'd call it social equity because the goal is not necessarily to make a profit. The goal is to increase opportunities for Black and Brown entrepreneurs in the city. I believe the city should invest in social equity funds with rules that are currently available. The rules target a specific segment of the society and the goals are to be precise and measurable. These two interventions are very useful.
Third is simplification. Comparing us with other large cities we are the most complicated. We haven't gone through a strategy of process improvement to simplify everything, but rather make it easy for people to do online. It's a problem for small businesses because big companies with accountants and lawyers can handle the complexity. Small businesses don't usually have the resources to deal with this. I think it is absolutely necessary to simplify the process, and ensure that the interface between the business and the government is simple and works.
Domb: We're going teach entrepreneurship to children from K-12. Della Clark, from the Enterprise Center, has created a fund named the Innovate Fund. She wants to raise $50,000,000. I believe she has raised about $29 million. I believe that investing in yourself is a good idea. They always ask, "What do I invest in?" "I invest in me," I always say. I am the best investment, because I control my own destiny. Why do we not invest in that fund with our pension fund. Why does our pension fund look at Della Clark’s fund, and not say that if she raises $30 million, we will match it with another $30? We will get our return. We are investing in our business. For the city to invest in this way, it means that they will have to pay more wages taxes. We'll get all these tax advantages in addition to the return on investment. We should invest in ourselves. Charlotte, North Carolina is doing it. I would ask all our banks to contribute at least $5 or $10 million.
Gym: My investment is in the areas that are likely to have the greatest untapped potential. This includes Black and Brown businesses. An investment in Black economic development agencies and access to capital will help to double the number Black and Brown businesses here in Philadelphia. We can tap into certain areas, such as the growth and construction industries. You want pipelines to come from our high school and career and technical education program. We are looking to partner with Community College of Philadelphia. We want to ensure that Commerce grants, and Commerce attention, is directed towards real development and growth.
Oh, we have to provide security because the commercial corridors of minority neighborhoods are extremely unsafe. That's one of the issues. Another thing is that city has been a villain when it comes to how they get their money and are so unfriendly towards small businesses. Minority and immigrant business owners feel the city does not support them. I'd say that we have an equal opportunity office, but it doesn't enforce its standards or enforce contracts. I wrote a bill that would enforce these standards.
Also, we only deal with certain groups of people. We only deal with Blacks, Browns and Asians. Women are our focus. We don't deal with people with disabilities and we do not classify LGBTQ as a minority for some reason. The law says that LGBTQ people are a minority. They're not even included. They refused to be included when I asked them to do so because they felt it was a smear against African Americans. This tells me there is a small pie and that the area has been captured by politics.
Parker: I'll have a deputy for the growth of minority businesses. I've been in government for long enough to understand that if a certain issue is not made the responsibility of someone, it won't be done. We'll be able measure it. Let me give an example of a measurable outcome and the kind of metrics that I would use to measure whether my administration was successful. I don't know if there are 10 or 20, but I'm sure we have 20 minority-owned companies that have been operating for more than 10 years, and have a gross of over $1 million per year. How can we double this amount?
Community College of Philadelphia offers a free program called Power Up Your Business, which provides small business owners with technical and administrative support. This program is free. We started this program in 2016, because I was tired of hearing people say that the beverage tax would disproportionately affect Black and Brown communities due to consumption patterns. Why are you only talking to Black and Brown communities from the standpoint of consumers? When I was growing up, the businesses in my neighbourhood were owned by people from the neighborhood. This is not the case any more. I knew many of them did not have an accountant, lawyer, or insurance broker on retainer, so when they were setting up their business structures, they didn't have these things intact. We could give them that support, so they can concentrate on their innovation, revenue growth and peer-to-peer mentorship. Guess what we did? The program is now the main feeder for Goldman Sachs' 10,000 Small Businesses Program in our region.
Della Clark, who is currently at Enterprise Center, and I would like to get married via SBIC. It is not a problem that the city and state governments are major investors in Innovate Fund. We need to create an environment that allows Black and Brown business owners to achieve what Gopuff has achieved. They need "Shark Tank' investors who will allow them to retain at least 51% ownership. This way, they can be the majority minority owners of their business while still having access to debt capital.
Rhynhart : This is an important issue. We must do better. I'd do several things as mayor. As mayor, I would partner with organizations like the Enterprise Center to provide jobs and with African-American- and minority-owned businesses in order to scale up. Another thing I believe is that we should provide equity for Black-owned businesses to grow. This was one of the recommendations I made as the controller for American Rescue Plan funds -- we should create an accelerator fund. In my report, I recommended that we invest some of the money in Black-owned businesses to jumpstart Black owned business in our commercial areas. I believe we should have clear goals. I have committed to more than double the number of Black owned businesses by the end my first term. With that, I will have a strong Office of Economic Opportunity. This office is currently located in the Commerce Department, and it is not always fully staff. I would report directly to the mayor to be able fully support and lead efforts to increase Black-owned, African-American-owned, minority-owned business contracts with the city as well as a potential area of opportunity.