Getting relief for the little guy
Helping small businesses through difficult financial times is nothing new for Nate McCoy.
As executive director of the National Association of Minority Contractors Oregon chapter (NAMC-Oregon), McCoy has helped minority contractors and other small business members navigate economic recessions, government bureaucracy, and regulatory and administrative hurdles.
That has ramped up significantly with COVID-19, and the organization was quick to reach out to its members when the pandemic reached the Pacific Northwest and Gov. Kate Brown issued the stay-at-home order.
"We started getting some calls, and we took the lead in checking in on all of our 50-plus members to identify what some of their top priorities are," McCoy said.
Financial relief was at the top of the list, and NAMC-Oregon provided technical assistance to help members submit applications, including showing that they met requirements to receive it, and sending email updates about other opportunities when the first round of funding quickly ran out.
NAMC-Oregon also organized a phone conference with the Small Business Administration's local office in late March to provide information to members about new regulatory products. Later, they scheduled a follow-up meeting with the Portland Small Business Development Center, which provides small business advising and training.
McCoy noted that, once a small business owner has submitted their application for federal relief, the process is pretty streamlined so that the business owner can track it. The issue is ensuring that the funding goes to small businesses instead of large companies.
"They rushed to get the money out the door, and there weren't the procedures in place," he said, adding larger companies have a greater capacity to position themselves to receive funding. "Minorities don't always tend to have those high-level relationships, and they had to just get in line with everybody else."
When the second round of federal relief began in late April, NAMC-Oregon sent a notice encouraging members who had not yet submitted their applications to do so early and helped those who had already submitted one to navigate how to monitor their status.
In a letter to Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and other elected officials, the organization pointed out that the Great Recession impacted minority-owned small businesses disproportionately, and were last to receive financial support then.
"As we've all seen, the pandemic is supposed to be as bad, if not worse, for small businesses of color, and we don't want to see a repeat of that," McCoy said. "We think it's now time to galvanize people of color and white counterparts who care about these social issues and support communities of color."
NAMC-Oregon partnered with several organizations to host a mayoral debate on May 7 as a Zoom Town Hall Meeting. They asked the leading four candidates how, if they are elected, they plan to close the gap in economic inequality and access to recovery resources and pursue economic and racial justice in all of the city's policies, processes and projects. Questions also centered on how the candidate who is elected will be held accountable for closing that gap. The debate was followed by an "after-party" in which candidates' campaign teams answered additional questions via Zoom.
The organizations involved in the May 7 debate were represented by a panel member who questioned the candidates. McCoy served as moderator, and the panelists represented the Oregon Native American Chamber, the Coalition of Communities of Color, LatinoBuilt, Portland Opportunities Industrialization Center, and the Coalition of Black Men.
Before the debate, Rosa Martinez, board president of LatinoBuilt and president of PMG Abatement Contractors, stated that Latinos make up a large percentage of the contractor workforce and play a crucial role in many trades associated with the construction industry.
"This debate is essential to the progress of our Latino contractors as well as the entire contractor community at large," she said, adding her organization was interested to learn about the candidates' plans around equity, workforce training and hiring policies, and how they would empower and support Latinos' voices.
McCoy said NAMC-Oregon also has partnered with the Associated General Contractors Oregon-Columbia chapter to inform its members who are still working on job sites about safety and health guidelines from the state's Oregon Safety and Health Administration, the Oregon Department of Transportation and other agencies.
"There is a lot of anxiety from workers, and some of our members as well, who aren't sure about a company's protocols and are wondering, 'Will I get COVID-19 even if I do the safety procedures?' We're just trying to ease everyone's anxiety and assure them that we can get through this."
Another priority for NAMC-Oregon is to inform members about bidding opportunities as they arise so that Portland's construction pipeline can remain as on-track as possible. It also is hosting Zoom meetings for members to share forecasting of project pipelines and network.
"Nothing replaces in-person relationship building, but we consider this a good way to get people together through these communication platforms," McCoy said, adding long-term advocacy is on the priority list as well. "We know, and other groups agree, that the focus is on survival right now, but we also need to be focused on companies operating once this is over. Business is not going to be the same, and I don't think policies and programs can be the same either. This is an opportunity for building bridges."
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