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Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Meeting The Needs Of Black-Owned Small Businesses In The Digital Economy

By Darci Henderson, Secretary, Tabor 100; Co-Founder, Alltrus

Small business owners, many of whom have taken a devastating blow this past year, will be the engine that drives our economic recovery once the vaccination rate picks up and things begin kicking back into gear again. To nurture a more robust and resilient small business community, collaboration at all levels of government and the economy will be essential. 

Policymakers, larger technology industry stakeholders, and community leaders must come together to broaden access to the tools available to small business owners today. This should encompass greater familiarity with digital advertising platforms, online payment processing capability through services such as Square, and third-party delivery options that are becoming increasingly digitized like USPS, FedEx, or UPS. 

As a Tukwila-based small business owner working with my business partner and co-founder Denise Ransom, and Secretary of Tabor 100, the regional chamber association that serves as a resource for minority-owned businesses, I’ve seen first-hand the obstacles our community has faced on every step of our country’s response to the pandemic. 

I’ve seen our business owners face challenges in accessing emergency assistance loans provided by the government while trying to pivot into an economy refocused on e-commerce. Sadly, minority-and-women-owned small businesses too often found themselves a day late or a dollar short on accessing resources needed to persist after COVID-19 turned our whole world upside down. To remedy this imbalance, greater collaboration is needed between organizations like Tabor 100, the government, and local industry leaders who are well-versed in the digital tools that provide access to online market share. 

Like most businesses across Washington State, digital tools have been very important to my own pivots in response to the pandemic. But as we know, not all small business owners have familiarity with the online market landscape. The digital tools and services available to small business owners today can be game-changing – often the difference between survival and closure. A robust outreach and education effort will be needed to further close the divide. 

A swift and equitable recovery will also require a recognition of the disproportionate challenges faced by minority-and-women-owned small businesses. Countless studies show that Black and Brown business owners faced considerable barriers to accessing emergency relief through the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which was meant encourage small business owners to keep workers on their payroll through the pandemic. I had difficulty accessing the PPP funds personally, and saw others across the Tabor 100 community struggle to get connected to emergency resources when we needed them most. These challenges underscore the need for a more deliberate approach to government relief, to supplement greater access to free and affordable digital platforms.

Zooming out, Washington State remains a leader nationally on economic opportunity stimulated by e-commerce, as was confirmed by a recent study from the Progressive Policy Institute. Ensuring that every small business owner can participate equitably to get the most value from these platforms will be essential to our collective journey to recovery. 

If there’s some good that can come from COVID-19, perhaps it’s the opportunity to create an economy that is more locally-focused, accessible to communities with fewer resources, and compassionate towards small business owners who have been left behind during the pandemic.

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