WILLINGBORO - Despite increased vacation travels, eased mask mandates and policies, and what seems to be a "new normal" emerging, not everyone is on the rebound from the pandemic.
In South Jersey,Black-owned business owners say ongoing economic woes, as well as systemic inequities, prevent them from thriving in the communities they serve.
On August 10, in recognition of Black Business Month, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker and Rep. Andy Kim hosted a roundtable discussion with Black business owners to discuss the federal response to COVID-19, challenges for Black-owned businesses in accessing capital, and navigating the current economy.
“At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly half of Black-owned small businesses were forced to shut down —some permanently,” Booker said. “Yet, even before the public health emergency, deep-seated inequities, including barriers to capital and business development, prevented Black entrepreneurs from starting or expanding their business. That’s why I’ve fought in the Senate as a member of the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship to expand access to capital and critical resources to Black business owners."
How many Black-owned businesses were lost due to COVID?
According to data from the consulting firm McKinsey & Company, 41% of Black-owned businesses were lost during the first few months of the pandemic, accounting for the largest loss across racial demographics.
Jermaine Hatcher, owner of J&J Janitorial Cleaning Services in Camden, shared his challenge is with many economic relief programs designed for small businesses. As micro-business owner, he said he is often forgotten about or has a more difficult time obtaining money due to not having enough employees to be recognized as a small business.
"To be considered a small business, you have to have 10 full-time employees," Hatcher said. "A lot of us want to scale up where as though we can have employees that we can give benefits to and give a living wage to so it's like how do we scale up from being micro to small?"
Tony Williams, owner of Seafood Haven in Willingboro, shared a similar experience while trying to get funding for his business.
"I think one of the barriers I faced was that I didn't have any employees. I'm an educator so I hire my students, family members, and because of the fact that I didn't have employees that I had a 1099 for or paid income wage taxes oftentimes that put me at the bottom of the pile," Williams said. "Finally when I was approved, I was told there was no more money and that was so frustrating."
Resources are there, but communication is not
The Minority Business Development Act of 2021 expanded the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Minority Business Development Agency by creating regional offices. As a result, The Enterprise Center, which has a history of supporting Black-owned businesses, was selected to operate New Jersey’s first MBDA located in Camden.
However, business owners discussed the disconnect between resources available for small businesses and those who own them knowing that they even exist or where to begin.
"A lot of businesses that I work with won't start because they're afraid of the debt that they're going to accumulate or they hear about all of these opportunities out there but there's no checklist and so they sit and stay at home and hope for the opportunity to come that one day I can walk away from my job and become a successful entrepreneur," said Nika Corbett, South Jersey resident and owner of Curate Noir. "So if there's more ways to spread the word to all these businesses that would be beneficial,"
Kim vowed to ensure small business owners know what government-backed resources they qualify for so that they can taken full advantage of programs.
"That's part of what we are taking away from this is that you all deserve to have crystal clear transparency about what's out there you shouldn't have to waste your time digging around on a website," Kim said.
Successes among hardships
Although minority business owners shared they continue to struggle from the challenges exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, there were also successes among hardships. Cory Cottingham, owner of Shokra Soups and partner of Melanin Market, a Black business expo in South Jersey, said that teaming up with other Black business owners to promote one another has allowed him to learn business strategies that he wouldn't have otherwise thought of.
"We're going to continue to connect and brand with other businesses so that we as business owners can learn from one another," Cottingham said. "What we've learned from Melanin Market is that it's a beautiful thing when we come together and us being from Willingboro, it does mean a lot."
For more information
The Burlington County Board of Commissioners created a Burlington County Business Portal to help businesses start, grow and thrive whether impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic or the volatile economy.
Nicolette White is the Diversity and Inclusion reporter for the Burlington County Times, The Daily Journal and Courier-Post. She is a Temple University graduate with Dallas, Texas roots. Send tips to firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @nicolettejwhite.Please support local journalism with a digital subscription.
This article originally appeared on Burlington County Times: COVID's impact on South Jersey Black- owned businesses