Small business owners need better access to federal programs .
Though many business groups say they value diversity, some say they’re not putting in the effort to branch out of their networks.
The distribution of Paycheck Protection Program funds in the spring of 2020 — the mad rush for federal funds to shore up businesses struggling because of COVID-19 — was a prime example of the way existing networks can fail business owners of color, said Manchester consultant and advocate Deo Mwano.
Business owners of color found themselves getting less aid, if they got help at all, because existing networks of information and banking relationships did not reach as far into New Hampshire’s Black, Latino, Asian and African communities.
But other efforts — including a partnership between the city of Manchester, the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Agency and the Greater Manchester Chamber — were more successful in reaching non-White business owners, because they made a specific effort to reach those businesses.
The program directed $250,000 in federal funds to businesses owned low-income people, and by Black people, Indigenous people or other people of color, a group sometimes abbreviated as “BIPOC.” Not because those business owners were looking for additional help, but because they were largely left out of earlier rounds of federal aid for businesses.
“Nobody is looking for a handout just because they’re BIPOC, or just because they’re underrepresented,” Mwano said. “That’s what it takes to be inclusive and equitable.”
Mwano said setting aside the money for business owners of color was just the first step. He worked with the city and the federal government to streamline the application process for business owners who might be shut out of aid for lack of paperwork.
Then, Mwano said, a small team was contracted to pound the pavement, and invite businesses to apply for aid.
“Within five months, the city was able to allocate all $250,000,” Mwano said. “I wish other allocations of resources that came in last year would have had that same approach.”
Mayor Joyce Craig’s office said the city has directed federal grants up to $5,000 to 53 city businesses, many of them owned by people of color and nearly all of them owned by people making less than the city’s median income of $49,000.
Word of mouth among Manchester’s Spanish-speaking business owners was the primary way Latino business owners heard about aid programs, from the federal Paycheck Protection Program loans to the city’s grants.
Dulces Bakery in downtown Manchester was able to get help from the Paycheck Protection Program, the state-administered Main Street Relief funds, and the city’s small business grants.
“We applied and we got help. That helped to jump-start after being closed so long,” said Angela Mojica, one of the bakery’s owners. Someone came in to make sure they knew how to fill out the forms and get documents in order, Mojica said.
And then it was back to work. said Mojica’s husband Jose Mojica, the bakery’s other owner.
“Break a sweat, and do what you do every day,” he said.
The hard work of rebuilding businesses has made those word-of-mouth networks stronger over the last year, Mojica said.
“All the other Hispanic small businesses reach out via email. We text each other, the state is offering this.”
Mwano said he has seen those networks of business owners strengthen in other enclaves. But Mwano said he hopes to see more connection between those networks, and the traditional business groups like chambers of commerce, which still have mostly-White leaders.
There are vital businesses everywhere, Mwano said, not just on Manchester’s Elm Street and South Willow Street. He said he wants to see business leaders go to neighborhoods they might not visit often, and meet the owners of the bodegas, barbershops and small churches that ground other communities in New Hampshire.
“The economic vitality of our community is not just on the businesses that we engage with on a daily basis,” Mwano said.
Building an inclusive and equitable business community means taking those extra steps, Mwano said, to reach communities and businesses owned by people of color, immigrants and people whose first language is not English.
“Go build those relationships,” Mwano said. “That’s what it takes to be inclusive and equitable.”