The Philadelphia Inquirer: It shouldn’t take a pandemic for Black-owned businesses to get support

The following opinion piece written by Malik Majeed was featured in The Philadelphia Inquirer’s opinion section on May 25th, 2022.

It shouldn’t take a pandemic for Black-owned businesses to get support

Black-owned businesses are key to Philly’s economic recovery.

by Malik Majeed, For The Inquirer

Updated May 25, 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.

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.