Isabella Guzman, head of the federal Small Business Administration, speaks to reporters after meeting entrepreneurs in Nubian Square. PHOTO: JOHN WILCOX, MAYOR
When a group of 50 local business owners and activists sat down last Wednesday with Isabella Guzman, head of the Small Business Administration, to discuss how the federal government can better help local entrepreneurs, there was no shortage of ideas.
Like businesses across the country, those in Boston are grappling with pandemic shutdowns, supply chain shortages, labor shortages and, more recently, the impact of rising inflation.
Meeting with reporters after the gathering, Guzman said the SBA is shifting from its focus on rescuing small businesses during the peak of the pandemic to helping many of those businesses scale out. To this end, the SBA reaches out to local community development finance agencies and local government to help entrepreneurs grow their businesses.
“Now as we turn around and look to ensure we can continue to serve these small businesses and help them build sustainable, resilient businesses for the future, the networks in place are so crucial,” she said.
Among those in the room were Steve Grossman, CEO of the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City, and Glynn Lloyd, Executive Director of the Foundation for Business Equity.
Guzman said bringing business owners together with business boosters and the SBA will help grow the local economy.
“The power of networks leads you to capital to start your business, grow your business, and SBA is about helping companies achieve the American dream of corporate ownership,” she said. “We want to make sure we’re there for that community. I think the partnership we will continue to have with the City of Boston and Mayor Wu to continue building bridges to communities that are underserved to fill some gaps and ensure the American economy can continue to grow strongly is that what gives I hope.”
City officials have also provided resources to help businesses through the pandemic. Segun Idowu, Chief of Economic Opportunity and Inclusion, noted that the city has allocated $34 million in ARPA funds and operating resources to support legacy businesses. In addition, the city has allocated $9 million for a rebate program and $9 million for scaling businesses. Additional investments include $5 million for the city’s Main Streets programs, which help revitalize local business districts, and $1 million investments in an old business grant fund and restaurant relief fund.
“We are working to do everything we can locally to acting faster than other levels of government sometimes can to get more money out the door instantly,” she said.
Wu noted that the city has prioritized minority-owned businesses when awarding contracts under its Sheltered Markets program, citing the $72 million deal its administration recently signed with City Fresh Foods to help the Boston Providing meals to public schools.
“We are very excited about this partnership,” Wu told reporters.
Idowu said Guzman’s visit to Nubian Square underscores the city’s commitment to supporting small businesses.
“It’s confirmation that we’re going in the right direction,” he told the banner.
Black Market co-owner Chris Grant said the meeting gave him insight. Nubian Square is home to several vendors, many of whom are looking for opportunities to grow their business.
“We work with a lot of start-ups,” he says. “If we know where to direct people, that helps.”
Grant said one hurdle for small startups is the paperwork and requirements that entrepreneurs must complete in order to qualify for support.
“Easy access to capital means a lot to them,” he said.
Balancing easy access to capital with protection against misuse of such funds has been a challenge for the Small Business Administration. The Paycheck Protection Program loans that the SBA administered during the pandemic resulted in high-profile fraud cases.
Guzman said the SBA has learned from the pandemic relief effort.
“The agencies have grown dramatically,” she noted. “They have provided over $1.2 trillion in relief efforts during COVID. Going forward, we want to ensure we implement the best practices that the Biden/Harris administration has prioritized in 2021 to ensure funds get into the hands of the businesses they were meant to serve.”