Isabella Guzman, who heads the Federal Small Business Administration, talks to reporters after a meeting with entrepreneurs in Nubian Square. PHOTO: JOHN WILCOX, OFFICE OF THE MAYOR
When a group of 50 local business owners and activists sat down with Small Business Administration official Isabella Guzman last Wednesday to discuss ways the federal government can better help local entrepreneurs, ideas abound. were not missing.
Like businesses across the country, those in Boston have struggled with pandemic shutdowns, supply chain shortages, worker shortages and, more recently, the effects of rising inflation.
Meeting with reporters after the rally, Guzman said the SBA is shifting from its focus on saving small businesses at the height of the pandemic to helping many of those same businesses grow. For this, the SBA looks to local community development funding agencies and local government to help entrepreneurs grow their businesses.
“Now as we pivot and seek to ensure that we can continue to serve these small businesses and help them build sustainable and resilient businesses in the future, the networks that are established are so essential,” she said. .
Among those in the room were Steve Grossman, CEO of Initiative for a Competitive Inner City, and Glynn Lloyd, executive director of the Foundation for Business Equity.
Guzman said convening business owners with business boosters and the SBA will help local economies grow.
“The power of networks is what gets you the capital to start your business, to grow your business, and the SBA is about trying to help businesses achieve that American dream of business ownership,” she said. . “We want to make sure we are there for this community. I think the partnership that we’re going to continue to have with the City of Boston and Mayor Wu to continue to build bridges to communities that have been underserved to fill in some of the gaps and make sure the American economy can continue to grow is what gives me hope.
City officials have also dedicated resources to help businesses through the pandemic. Economic Opportunity and Inclusion Chief Segun Idowu noted that the city has channeled $34 million in ARPA funds and operating funds to support legacy businesses. Additionally, the city has committed $9 million for a rebate program and $9 million to help businesses grow. Additional investments include $5 million for the city’s main streets programs, which help revitalize local business districts and investments of $1 million in a legacy business grant fund and a relief fund for the restaurants.
“We strive to do everything in our power locally, to move faster than other levels of government sometimes can to get more money right away,” she said.
Wu noted that the city has prioritized minority-owned businesses in its contracts through its protected markets program, citing the $72 million contract his administration recently signed with City Fresh Foods to provide meals at Boston Public Schools.
“We are very happy with this partnership,” Wu told reporters.
Idowu said Guzman’s visit to Nubian Square underscored the city’s commitment to supporting small businesses.
“It’s an affirmation that we’re headed in the right direction,” he told the Banner.
Chris Grant, co-owner of Black Market, said the meeting gave him some insight. The Nubian Square space hosts several vendors, many of whom are looking for ways to grow their businesses.
“We work with a lot of startups,” he said. “If we know where to refer people, that’s helpful.”
Grant said one of the hurdles small startups face is the paperwork and prerequisites entrepreneurs have to go through to be eligible for aid.
“Ease of access to capital means a lot to them,” he said.
For the Small Business Administration, finding a balance between ease of access to capital and protections against the misuse of those funds has been a challenge. Paycheck Protection Program loans administered by the SBA during the pandemic have led to high-profile cases of fraud.
Guzman said the SBA has learned from pandemic relief efforts.
“Agencies have evolved significantly,” she noted. “They provided over $1.2 trillion in relief during COVID. Going forward, we want to make sure we implement the best practices the Biden/Harris administration prioritized in 2021 to ensure funds get to the businesses they were meant to serve.