Momentum boost sought for entrepreneurs of color

Boston Statehouse

Downtown Springfield

BOSTON (SHNS) – During the COVID-19 pandemic, Massachusetts has provided “unprecedented support” and “unprecedented access to capital” to entrepreneurs of color, MassINC research director Benjamin Forman told lawmakers Tuesday.

“They clearly have responded, starting businesses at rates we’ve never seen before, bringing dynamism to our main streets and creating entrepreneurial energy for our regional economies,” Forman said at an Economic Development and Emerging Technologies Committee hearing, asking the committee to support a bill he said would keep that momentum going.

The only three people to testify at a Tuesday hearing — Forman, Samuel Gebru of the Black Economic Council of Massachusetts, and Joe Kriesberg of the Massachusetts Association of Community Development Corporations — spoke in support of the same bill (S 270/H 505), filed by committee co-chair Sen. Eric Lesser and Rep. Antonio Cabral.

Kriesberg said the bill would mandate that the state develop a “comprehensive plan for supporting businesses of color” and also includes provisions that focus on “diversifying public boards and commissions, improving supplier diversity at anchor institutions, strengthening neighborhood business districts and exposing predatory lending practices.”

The $3.82 billion spending package the House recently passed to allocate American Rescue Plan Act dollars and surplus tax collections from fiscal 2021 reserved $35 million of its $60 million in small business grants for enterprises owned by women, minorities or veterans, and businesses that are focused on underserved markets. The $3.66 billion bill teed up for debate in the Senate Wednesday has $50 million in small business grants, and dedicates that whole pot to those that focus on “socially and economically disadvantaged and historically underrepresented” markets and to diverse businesses owned by underrepresented groups.

Kriesberg said there is more to do beyond providing emergency relief.

“We need to use this investment opportunity to put in place the infrastructure that’s going to allow businesses to thrive and grow over the next five to 10 years, not just the next five or 10 weeks or five or 10 months,” Kriesberg said. “I think we still have work to do in that regard with the ARPA funding. This legislation that I’m here to talk about today would do a number of things that we think would help move us along.”

Gebru also testified in support of another Lesser bill (S 268), which he said would create a $10 million competitive grant program for minority-owned and minority-led startups, and a Sen. Nick Collins bill (S 255) he said would require the state to establish an “affirmative marketing program that would set goals to ensure the fair participation of minority- and women-owned business enterprises for capital facility projects and the disposition of real property.”

“The commonwealth, as you know, is the largest landlord in Massachusetts, and the public construction sector presents an exciting opportunity in the coming months and years for our members to secure contracts and thrive,” Gebru said.

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