By Troy Singleton
Rep. John Lewis, the late congressman, civil rights icon, and fellow fraternity brother, once said that, “Every generation leaves behind a legacy. What that legacy will be is determined by the people of that generation. What legacy do you want to leave behind?”
History reminds us that Lewis used his influence and wisdom to ensure that future generations of African Americans might not have to endure the same struggles as his own generation. Some 60 years later, as Black people in America continue to face similar obstacles, Lewis’s words and actions can still serve to inform our push for social justice reforms, as well as economic opportunities for people of color. It is my hope that we recommit to putting policies in place that will lift-up and support Black and minority-owned businesses.
Historically, Black companies were created to counter racial discrimination brought about by segregation. Black entrepreneurs opened their own businesses to fill the market void in their communities and to meet the demands of their customers. Today, African Americans own over 124,500 businesses across America. Undoubtedly, they provide a significant contribution to the overall health of our national, state, and local economies.
However, as we rebuild New Jersey’s economy following the economic devastation caused by the pandemic, we must ensure that the recovery is inclusive of Black and other minority-owned businesses, which have been ignored, left behind, or left out of economic prosperity in the past.
This is imperative considering that 66% of minority-owned businesses are worried about shuttering permanently. Even more daunting is data from the Federal Reserve that shows over 40% of Black-owned businesses, 30% of Latinx businesses, and 25% of Asian businesses have already closed their doors. In comparison, only 17% of white-owned businesses have faltered.
To address this concerning trend, I introduced the Minority Business Enhancement (MBE) Act, which is a confluence of several proposals meant to strengthen, grow, and diversify our state’s economic and entrepreneurial base. The MBE Act supports minority-owned businesses by identifying disparities and barriers to growth, extending financial assistance, and improving relationships between them and other established small businesses and state government.
For instance, in order to discover the disparities that exist for minority-owned businesses in the procurement of state contracts, I introduced Senate Bill 2768, which would authorize the state’s chief diversity officer to conduct a disparity study. Having access to opportunities to contract with the state can be a tipping point for a small business, but so can having access to funding. That is why I also authored Senate Bill 2770, which establishes the position of minority depository institution coordinator in the New Jersey Economic Development Authority. Ultimately, their goal would be to reduce administrative barriers to the participation of minority-owned businesses in any EDA loan program.
Additionally, we must also find innovative ways to give these businesses a sorely needed financial lifeline, which we can do through our Minority Business Development Program. This proposal establishes a program that would provide $50 million grant funding and technical assistance services to foster the development of minority-owned businesses in New Jersey.
For our efforts to be truly inclusive, we are working to help minority-owned businesses in every corner of our state — in rural and urban areas alike. We want to create a Rural Economic Development Program that will provide $35 million in grants to businesses for the retention or creation of employment opportunities in rural areas and an Urban Wealth Fund that will provide startup capital to minority-owned businesses, improvements to infrastructure, investments in education and more.
Lastly, we are working to create the Biannual Small Business Matchmaker Initiative, which will serve as a networking opportunity to connect Black-owned and other small businesses with representatives of government agencies. It would open the door to learning about the availability of government contract possibilities.
Given the historical shackles that have constrained Black businesses in America, Black History month was an important reminder that a vibrant, healthy Black business economy does not end there. When Black businesses prosper, all businesses, regardless of ethnicity, thrive, adding to our shared economic health and future. This is the collective legacy we must leave behind.