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.