February 1, 2022

Shining the right light on the BIPOC business community

You can’t find solutions to BIPOC business barriers unless you bring business owners to the table.

In December, the Economic Development Board for Tacoma-Pierce County and the Minority Business Development Agency—Washington Business Center partnered with Clarity Consulting for a two-day discussion with Pierce County Black and Indigenous people of color (BIPOC) business owners. Results of the BIPOC Business Executive Roundtable were presented to the EDB Board in January, as additional research and analysis gave broader context to what these businesses are up against and recommendations for future policy development.

Drilling down

A total of 22 BIPOC firms participated in the hybrid sessions on Dec. 8 and 9. Eighteen business leaders completed surveys addressing two key questions ahead of the roundtable event:

    • What is your biggest need for growth?
    • What have you seen your clients struggle with consistently?

Based on information gathered, the report offers the following recommendations:

    1. Equitable access to below-market capital (government and banking) for the BIPOC business community
    • Banks historically have denied loans to BIPOC borrowers or issued loans at higher rates. Government funding institutions, banks and economic development initiative supporters with cash reserves should set aside funds for BIPOC business support in proportion to, and at the same rate level as, capital available for non-minority borrowers.
    • BIPOC business owners, BIPOC banking professionals and lived-experience consultants should be involved in every phase of the design of funding programs.
    1. Funding to subsidize BIPOC business services
    • Subsidizing business services for BIPOC businesses supports the growth and development of companies with historically less start-up capital. It also allows businesses to focus on production and organization.
    • The EDB is preparing a BIPOC business service provider resource list to support this effort.
    1. Continued regular sessions of the BIPOC Business Executive Roundtable
    • BIPOC businesses need learning opportunities, advice from experts, and spaces to connect and build networks.
    1. BIPOC business hub/incubator
    • Business incubators allow business owners to collaborate, network, and centralize support programs.

“I’m so glad to be a part of this process with the EDB and the MBDA,” said Michael Jordan, owner and founder of Clarity Consulting. “The challenges BIPOC businesses face are being talked about and we’re seeing new synergy in the community. There is purposeful development and building of solutions.”

You can read the full BIPOC Business Executive Roundtable Report here.

Out of the ordinary

The EDB’s mission is to retain existing primary businesses and recruit new ones. Pierce County’s BIPOC businesses don’t fit the profile of the businesses the EDB typically works with. “Our current work plan has some elements around diversity, equity and inclusion, but we had to set aside presumptions about what BIPOC businesses need,” said EDB President Bruce Kendall.

“These businesses are much smaller,” said Maddie Merton, EDB Vice President for Business Retention. “This is helping us better understand their needs. Now we have something solid to go on to help us at a business retention level and in everything we do.’

“Scaling supportive business services to small businesses is going to be instrumental in their success and promote growth,” said MBDA Director Linda Womack. “I look forward to the continued collaboration.”

Ongoing work

In January, the EDB, MBDA and the Office of Minority and Women’s Business Enterprise sponsored free fast-track certification training at Bates Technical College for Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) certifications. The event offered in-person training on the certification process, application tips and access to a computer lab. Ongoing support will help participants navigate the certification process. Participants came from as far as Vancouver and Mt. Vernon to the first training of its kind in the state, with similar programs being planned.

“There are 15,000 BIPOC businesses in Pierce County, and less than 1 percent of those have certifications,” said Merton. “We need to find them and get them into the supply chain to take advantage of programs in the local, federal and private contracting arenas.”

The need in the BIPOC community is great, Merton said. “Even these small steps make change.”


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