Minority-owned businesses in Iowa team up to survive pandemic economy
Ricky Mathai is a tax specialist from Kenya to the United States who now owns his own business which helps immigrant-owned businesses manage their finances.
He was looking forward to his next networking session at the very first Black and Brown Business Summit in West Des Moines. He attended the event with 454 other people.
He is keen to work with Latin American business owners to advance his own business, where he focuses on empowering and educating other small business owners from racial and ethnic minorities.
“There is no need… there is no need to be a nativist. It is not necessary to have corners, cliques and groups of people. Let’s break down the walls, it’s the 21st century. This is what our fight is today, ”said Mathai.
Terrence Thames helped plan the summit for people like Mathai. He sits on the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee of the West Des Moines Chamber of Commerce.
“You have a lot of companies that are here this week that are saying, ‘Hey, we see this problem, we want to be part of the solution,’” Thames explained.
He himself owns a black business. And when he explained what the “problem” was, he shook his head.
“Oh, girl, we don’t have time for this. There are a lot of things that haven’t happened in our ecosystem that and part of that stems from different things, “Thames said.” We don’t have strong legislation in our state that supports minorities. owned companies. “
We don’t have strong legislation in our state that supports minority-owned businesses.
Terrence Thames, business owner
Thames said he believed part of it was due to a lack of representation in state government. There are only six black lawmakers in the Iowa legislature and last November the first Latino was elected to the House.
Thames said that since the majority of state lawmakers are white, “these are not people making decisions with the minority community in mind, and they sometimes work in a space where they haven’t broadened their circles to. include diversity of thought, whether for women, or in this case for men and women belonging to minorities, you know. And so it has lifelong effects down the line.
Thames spoke about his personal experience not only as a business owner, but also as a black entrepreneur.
His firm, Cocoa Creative, was one of the few agencies to recover quickly from the pandemic. But Thames said it wasn’t because the state invested in him as a business owner, it was because of his track record.
He grew up in Southside Chicago and his 18-year-old cousin at the University of Iowa took him in so he could “have a better life.”
“My business is growing. We learn along the way. But the consistency of my life is as follows: it has been a village all around me, always around me, to help me grow. And that’s a really powerful thing, you know, black and brown people, ”Thames said.
To compensate for this lack of support from the state government, black and Maroon-owned businesses are starting to team up to ensure each other’s success.
They teach each other how to network, build relationships with financial institutions, and even what questions to ask to make sure their businesses don’t fall through the cracks.
“I think all about numbers is power, or there is power in numbers,” Amner Martinez said.
He participated in the summit pitch competition. He did not place, but he congratulates the winners, including Mathai who took third place.
He owns a recruiting, recruiting and head-hunting agency and also hosts a podcast to showcase diverse voices. All in all, he wants to help build a “multicultural bridge” for Iowa employers.
He realized earlier that he had in fact not worked with a lot of black people in his recruiting agency as salespeople, but he does work with a lot of Latinos.
“I think if instead of going our separate ways and combining our strengths, I think it’s always good,” Martinez said.
He said it’s about time Iowa’s minority-owned businesses really started making a conscious effort to work together. And for the other institutions to “put real financial support” behind them.
“There is something built in, that the Whites have always had the upper hand, have always got the silver lining. And then the African American people and people of color got the short term of the deal, ”Martinez said.
Minority-owned businesses are less likely to survive pandemic conditions without government help, according to a Federal Reserve Bank survey.
Among businesses that reported their race and ethnicity to the Small Business Administration, non-Hispanic and white business owners received the highest percentage of loan forgiveness through the Paycheck Protection Program.
And Katherine Harrington, president and CEO of the West Des Moines Chamber of Commerce, recognizes this disparity.
“They don’t have the same chances as me as a white person… Because of their skin color, it’s ridiculous,” Harrington said.
Her eyes started to cry as she explained why she was supporting Thames and other organizers for a black and brown business summit.
“The answer is simply George Floyd. He woke us up,” Harrington said. “He woke up America. He woke the world to racial injustice, and all of its facets, where it is and where it is hiding. That is why we are here.”
She added that it was time for some white-owned businesses to take a step back.
“Now is the time to take advantage of this opportunity, because all eyes are on black and brown businesses, black and brown people, and how can we all help? And so we are trying to do our part, ”she explained.
Many black and brown business owners say they feel more confident as the pandemic eases because they have more partners to turn to in the community.
The business summit Thames helped organize brought in a total of $ 55,500 for the minority business community and more than 13,000 people viewed the website. And as far as attendees and organizers know, this is just the start.