Philadelphia Inquirer: It shouldn’t take a pandemic for Black-owned businesses to get supportBlack-owned businesses are key to Philly’s economic recovery. 

by Malik Majeed, For the Inquirer

Updated May 25th, 2022

As we learn to live with COVID-19 as an endemic virus — rather than a pandemic — Philadelphia’s economy faces an inflection point.

COVID has taken a toll on all businesses, but Black-owned businesses have been hit especially hard. The U.S. Bureau of Economic Research estimates the United States has lost 40% of its Black-owned businesses since the pandemic started. Philadelphia has fared better than most, losing only 8% of its Black businesses during that period. But every loss matters, as these businesses make up a tiny 6% of companies in the city.

Moving forward, the key to unlocking the city’s economic prosperity will be found in providing more support to Black- and brown-owned businesses.

As the CEO of Philadelphia’s largest Black-owned company, I understand that Black and brown business owners have to prove our worth every day. My colleagues and I have walked in the shoes of start-up companies, where profit margins are razor-thin and challenges abound, which is why we contract with them for needed services whenever possible. We hope through this intentional effort we are showing what equitable recovery looks like.

We are not alone in these efforts.

Throughout the last two years, several programs have made a difference, like Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 Relief Statewide Small Business Assistance program, which reserved $100 million of its $200 million pool for business owners of color during the pandemic.

The Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia also launched its Recharge & Recover PHL initiative, which has a goal of making Philadelphia “a place known for its support of Black, brown, and other minority-owned businesses.” Several influential Philadelphia organizations also launched the Greater Philadelphia Financial Services Leadership Coalition, which funded an additional $100 million for grants to businesses owned by Black and brown people. Additionally, 100 of the region’s largest employers — including PRWT Services Inc. and our wholly owned subsidiary, U.S. Facilities Inc. — created a public-private Diverse Procurement Collaborative to diversify contracting in partnership with Philadelphia’s Chamber of Commerce.ADVERTISEMENT

Federal support has also extended an essential lifeline to businesses owned by Black and brown people. The American Rescue Plan allocated funding for emergency grants for small businesses with a focus on Black businesses. The ARP’s $10 billion State Small Business Credit Initiative also provides capital to small businesses in areas with economic disadvantages, including to businesses owned by Black and brown people.

Moving forward, this should be the new normal. It should not take a pandemic for governments, organizations, and private companies to invest in Black- and brown-owned businesses.

As the city and its civic leaders continue to discuss how to propel our economic recovery in a post-pandemic world, these conversations must prioritize a focus on sustaining economic recovery and growth for Black-owned businesses.

I have been inspired by how Black-owned businesses in our city have weathered the pandemic and maintained their services. They are law and PR firms, developers, accountants, financial services, restaurants, hair salons, bookstores, and gyms; but to their communities, they are so much more. They are the economic stronghold supporting their people. They represent a model of resilience for every worker and business.

But I am also aware of the businesses forced to permanently close their doors because of COVID. The lack of consistent resources prior to the pandemic created a void, and the resources provided during an urgent time of need were not enough. These businesses did not have the chance to come out stronger on the other side. They deserved — and still deserve — better.

Malik Majeed is president, CEO, and general counsel for PRWT Services Inc. and its wholly owned subsidiary, U.S. Facilities Inc.

A Real Opportunity for Black- and Brown-owned Businesses to Grow in Philadelphia

By Malik Majeed

I am very encouraged by a new program initiated by the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Philadelphia. It is called the Diverse Procurement Collaborative. The program commits 100 of the region’s largest employers to increase the diversity of their contracting networks, bringing more Black- and brown-owned businesses into the contract pipeline in the Philadelphia area as regional employers begin to recognize true shareholder value extends beyond the bottom line.

Our Chamber partners need look no further than our company’s model to show how giving a small Black- and brown-owned under-resourced company an opportunity led to big outcomes. PRWT Services, Inc. (PRWT) started out in Philadelphia by operating one call center as a subcontractor supporting the Philadelphia Parking Authority. Today we are a prime contractor for that agency.

We were given an opportunity, and we proved ourselves, which allowed us to grow and manage operations nationwide. In turn, we continue to hire employees who look like us and come from our neighborhoods, helping us build an economic ecosystem that improves the prospects for those neighborhoods now and into the future.

The unfortunate reality is people tend to hire people who look like them, talk like them and act like them. It is an unconscious bias that we all have, and it creates an ongoing negative cycle. If there is no basis for economic opportunity for Black- and brown people, they are not going to find jobs. If they do not find jobs, they are not able to provide for their children.

It also means they are probably not in a good position to set the positive examples their children need, leaving them without hope.  We have all witnessed the negative impact this has on Black- and brown communities and our society in general.

The participation the Chamber is trying to inspire is very noble.  However, to have demonstrable, repeatable, long term results, the region’s largest employers must live up to this pledge by following through and awarding contracts directly to Black- and brown-owned businesses, or, by insisting the businesses they are doing business with award contracts to Black- and brown-owned businesses via subcontracts. In addition, the region’s largest employers must recognize and be willing to spend a little more and take a little more risk in doing so.

As I have told my peers, other companies are able to spread their costs across multiple contracts, so they can price their proposals lower. Unfortunately, Black and brown businesses and small diverse companies are not able to spread their costs across multiple contracts.  Usually, they are living off one or two active contracts at a time. They do not have the capacity to spread costs across multiple contracts in the same way as larger companies.

One opportunity is great! However, if you want to see Black and brown businesses become successful and grow, you must provide those businesses with additional opportunities. And as their customer base grows, you will see them hiring and providing opportunities to other Black and brown businesses. Indeed, a recent McKinsey study found that if we can get to a point where there’s revenue parity between Black-owned and white-owned businesses, it could add billions of dollars to the national economy.

This effort by the Chamber over the next two years is not just a feel-good plan. It is about measuring results and sharing best practices.

At PRWT and our wholly owned subsidiary U.S. Facilities, Inc., we practice what we preach. We provide others with opportunities. We hire, purchase goods and services and contract with other diverse companies, providing individuals a chance to support their families and/or grow their businesses. We also mentor other diverse companies.

Regional employers cannot nickel and dime diverse businesses over shareholder value because true shareholder value cannot always be measured in dollars and cents. When people’s houses are getting boarded up or whole neighborhoods are going under while a company’s stock price is going up, what are we doing to our cities and our country? That is what all of us in positions of corporate leadership must consider.

Philadelphia Business Journal: A call to action for inclusive economic recovery in 2021

A call to action for inclusive economic recovery in 2021 (Opinion)

By Malik Majeed, Guest Columnist

December 1, 2020

As we approach the end of the year, many of us are still wondering if 2021 will bring the reprieve we all so desperately need with respect to our businesses and the local economy, even with a potential blockbuster vaccine on its way.

I am optimistic and believe that it can, but it will take a couple of different measures on both the federal and local level. First, we need the United States government to unite over a second stimulus package. Second, all Philadelphia business leaders must commit to working collaboratively toward a true inclusive recovery. The latter is something that I and my fellow members of the Philadelphia Regional Recharge and Recovery Taskforce of the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia will be focused on in the New Year.

Sue Jacobson, newly appointed chair of the Chamber, said it best in her remarks at the annual meeting when she noted that accomplishing a transformational agenda at scale demands an unprecedented level of partnership and commitment. That level of partnership and commitment will not just come from the business community, but from us working with local government, civic organizations, and our local colleges, universities, and research centers.

Most importantly, though, it will require us to invite people to the decision-making table, who previously did not have a seat at the table, or whose voices were not always heard.

As the CEO of PRWT Services Inc. and its wholly owned subsidiary U.S. Facilities Inc. (PRWT/USF), I lead one of the area’s largest minority-owned business, a designation we do not take lightly. As a company, we work to provide opportunities to disenfranchised people from all walks of life. In addition to offering entry-level jobs to Philadelphians who live in diverse, economically-challenged neighborhoods across the city, we look to partner with smaller minority-owned firms whenever PRWT/USF is the lead contractor on a project and needs additional support.

The experiences that many of our employees and fellow minority-owned business leaders have had over the past eight months have been different from others – that is undeniable. We have had to watch as our family members were impacted by the novel coronavirus at rates higher than caucasian groups, while witnessing how unchecked systemic racism has played out in the tragic deaths of multiple Black men and women, most recently here in our hometown with the death of Walter Wallace Jr. In addition, Black-owned businesses nationwide are closing at twice the rate as other companies.

In order to truly make this recovery inclusive and ensure minority businesses and individuals do not fall even further behind, we need to listen to these experiences, and then create policies and programs that will actually meet the needs of this group while also benefiting the broader business community.

We should look at expanding policies that incentivize working with local minority-owned businesses. This needs to include working together to educate and assist minority business communities to seek all government funding opportunities. A Center City District report recently found that 41% of Black-owned firms did not apply for financing because they did not think they would receive it. This is clear evidence that we all need to be doing more if we are going to truly help minority businesses succeed and be part of moving our city forward.

So, let’s close the disconnect. Let’s bring these business owners into the conversation with the broader business community and work together to ensure that the recovery and rebuilding from Covid-19 includes solutions for every working-class person in Philadelphia, regardless of race or the zip code they live in.

If we step out of our comfort zones, expand our circles and, do the hard work now, then we can have a real chance of improving the livelihood of all Philadelphians.

Malik Majeed is CEO of PRWT Services Inc. and U.S. Facilities in Philadelphia.