Going Beyond Words In Support For Minority-Owned Businesses

EDITORIAL The Salem News, Beverly, Mass.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) A new report which focuses on minority entrepreneurship in Massachusetts reveals the many challenges minority-owned businesses face. The report makes several suggestions aimed at better supporting minority entrepreneurship, including expanding technical assistance and investing more state money in minority- and women-owned businesses.

Salem

First, the good news. The number of minority-owned businesses in Massachusetts is on the rise, a movement MassINC research director Ben Forman calls a "promising sign."

Forman, however, notes the trend has done little to change the fact that white residents are about 2.5 times more likely to own a business in Massachusetts than Black residents.

"The growth in business ownership among people of color was very strong over the last decade in Massachusetts, but we're building from a very small base, so even though we saw this very significant growth, it didn't close the gaps," Forman said after the release of MassINC's latest study of the issue, undertaken in partnership with the Coalition for an Equitable Economy.

And while the COVID-19 pandemic has hurt all businesses, minority- and women-owned companies have been disproportionately affected, the report notes, in large part because they did not have the same access to resources as white-owned businesses.

Before the coronavirus lockdowns, "entrepreneurs of color still lacked full access to appropriate assistance, growth capital, and markets, and our efforts to address the barriers manifest by structural racism and inequality were anemic at best," the report said. "One silver lining of the pandemic is the light it has cast on this stark reality."

The report, released Tuesday, makes several suggestions aimed at better supporting minority entrepreneurship, including expanding technical assistance and investing more state money in minority- and women-owned businesses, and making that money easier to access. The report also called on chambers of commerce to do more to help minority-owned businesses make valuable connections.

The authors of the report were quick to stress the overall benefit to the economy from such investments. Despite Massachusetts' reputation as a hub of innovation, Bay State entrepreneurship — at least the type that leads to jobs — has been in sharp decline in recent years. The number of new Massachusetts companies with employees formed every year dropped by 47% between 2005 and 2018, the study notes.

State Sen. Eric Lesser told the State House News Service there is legislation percolating on Beacon Hill to address some of these issues, including better tracking how state funding makes its way to business owners of color.

Lawmakers and other state officials, however, would do well to follow the lead of several cities and towns of the North Shore.

Salem, Beverly, Peabody and Lynn and the towns of Swampscott and Marblehead last month launched the North Shore Diversity Catalog, a regional vendor registry for minority- and women-owned businesses.

The initiative is an outgrowth of the work of Salem's Race Equity Task Force and Beverly's diversity in public contracts efforts.

The aim, the local officials said, is to "improve equity and diversity in municipal contracts and bids" and provide a single comprehensive listing of minority- and women-owned businesses.

There's more to the effort than a simple catalogue. The effort will include a series of virtual training programs with state procurement specialists so local minority- and women-owned businesses can learn how they qualify for a state designation that opens more opportunities for contracts.

Improve equity and diversity in municipal contracts and bids, of course, is one of the priorities outlined in the MassINC report.

"Many minority-owned businesses exclusively serve communities of color because of difficulty entering other markets," the authors wrote. "This makes it challenging for them to grow to a stable size."

There is much work to be done at the state level to close the opportunity gap between white- and minority-owned businesses. The multi-community initiative on the North Shore offers an approach that could be easily replicated by regions across the state. ___ Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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