In moments of crisis, when daily life is upended, we can see more clearly the perils of the status quo and the promises of a better future. Over the past two years, in the midst of the COVID pandemic and the wake of the George Floyd uprising, Minnesotans across ethnicity, income, and geography made clear commitments to make our state a more just and equitable place – and our economy more inclusive.
Black, African, Asian, Latinx, Indigenous and immigrant leaders stepped into our power, leveraging our business ingenuity to meet immediate needs and create new opportunities for our communities – and state. With that momentum, more than 20 cultural and place-based business associations, BIPOC-led community organizations and arts organizations came together to form the Business Resource Collective to ensure relief and recovery efforts prioritized BIPOC business owners’ needs in the short term and reversed entrenched racial disparities in the long term.
For a time, our political leaders followed our lead, taking the initial steps toward a different political paradigm. Relief grants flowed to our BIPOC small businesses. Evictions were put on hold to keep our families in their homes.
But now, with more than $1 billion remaining from the American Rescue Plan Act and a $9.2 billion budget surplus, our state leaders are poised to squander this historic moment of unprecedented resources that could transform our state economy.
With targeted and sustained investments at the state level, we can ensure thriving small business landscapes in every community, where our ingenuity creates living wage jobs for neighborhood residents, and our enterprises support community-nurturing gathering spaces that generate economic opportunity. The time to invest in Micro- to Main Street businesses is now.
We know that BIPOC and immigrant-owned businesses play an essential role in building and sustaining the culture, wealth and economic vitality of BIPOC and immigrant communities – and are central to the economic survival and prosperity of our state overall. According to the Minneapolis Federal Reserve, the number of BIPOC-owned businesses doubled between 2007 and 2017, increasing from 31,000 businesses in 2007 to 58,000 in 2017. And that surge has only grown amidst COVID.
Here in Minnesota, the Black Women’s Wealth Alliance (BWWA) has seen increased demand for their services supporting Black entrepreneurs and businesses. For instance, TRI-Construction, Minnesota’s largest Black-owned construction firm lacked access to critical capital and technical assistance to scale their company during an unexpected period of growth amid the murder of George Floyd. The BWWA provided TRI-Construction with a business assessment, equity capital support for operations in the form of a $30,000 grant, and technical support to develop a business strategy that led to an additional $750,000 in capital lending. But, right now, the small business landscape lacks significant investment options to support small business growth, especially for BIPOC businesses like TRI-Construction.
That’s why, drawing on our collective work with thousands of BIPOC small businesses statewide, we created a blueprint for a comprehensive set of state investments that can create and sustain a healthy, thriving business ecosystem for our communities. We have shared this vision and found champions in the state legislature, as well as the Governor’s Council on Economic Expansion, who recognize the potential for our cultural communities – and our statewide tax base – if we support the operation, growth and health of BIPOC small businesses.
To do that, we must be specific in naming and defining small business to include microbusinesses, sole proprietors, creative businesses and home-based businesses. We must ensure BIPOC small businesses have access to right-sized capital and loans, affordable commercial spaces with options for ownership, and technical support and training.
The resources to do exactly that are available and policies that will move the needle on the racial wealth gap by building this ecosystem of BIPOC business support are on the table at the legislature right now. These policies include a loan fund for both small businesses and emerging developers, increased culturally responsive business support, and community revitalization and capital project grants.
With targeted and sustained investments, we can strengthen Minnesota’s small and micro businesses that have been kept in the margins of our economy, providing opportunities to increase resilience in the face of the next challenge. We know what it takes, and we have the resources to do it. The future of our state as an inclusive and welcoming environment for BIPOC entrepreneurs hangs in the balance.
By Kenya McKnight Ahad is the founder and CEO of the Black Women’s Wealth Alliance, Caroline Taiwo is the economic opportunity director at Springboard for the Arts and Tabitha Montgomery is the executive director of the Powderhorn Park Neighborhood Association.