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For small business to survive beyond the pandemic, we must be willing to tackle structural inequality.

COURTESY: ONACC - James Parker (jparker@onacc.org) is the executive director of the Oregon Native American Chamber of Commerce.Editor's note: James Parker of the Oregon Native American Chamber of Commerce contributed to this month's column.

When Oregon's small businesses shut their doors in March, no one knew how long they would be closed. While they responded with resilience and creativity, moving quickly to adjust their business models and keep the lights on while staying safe, small businesses have faced staggering losses. Without timely assistance, many will close their doors for good. And it's our rural businesses and those owned by women and Black, Indigenous, and People of Color that face the greatest challenges.

ASHLEY HENRYDespite the promise that the CARES Act would, "prioritize small business concerns and entities in underserved and rural markets," and "those run by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals," too many small businesses have seen little or no support at all. In fact, the Center for Responsible Lending estimates that over 90 percent of Black-owned, Latino-owned and Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander-owned businesses will likely not qualify for a Paycheck Protection Program loan through mainstream banks or credit unions. And now, as Senate Republicans attempt to block additional federal aid, thousands of small businesses have nowhere to turn.

This disregard for the small businesses that serve as the heart of our communities is nothing new.

While COVID-19 has exacerbated economic inequities, the economic challenges small businesses face today are rooted in decades of public policies that have disadvantaged BIPOC communities. The systemic racism that has excluded BIPOC communities from economic opportunities by erecting barriers to housing, credit, and job opportunities has led to devastatingly disproportionate harm during the pandemic.

Together, we have plenty of work to do.

We are grateful that Oregon state legislators have elevated the issues facing our most vulnerable businesses and moved quickly to allocate $10 million in April plus another $22.5 million in July to provide emergency help to small businesses. In particular, Representative John Lively and Speaker Tina Kotek have taken the time to listen to individual business owners and demonstrate a strong commitment to Oregon's small business community.

This support has been a lifeline for small businesses, but for our economy to emerge stronger, we must address the structural factors that have created disparities.

Addressing critical barriers to success

Recognizing the urgent need for action, small businesses and community partners from across the state have come together to form a new coalition, with a particular focus on BIPOC and rural entrepreneurship. Oregon Small Business United (OSBU) is committed to ensuring that we meet the needs of thousands of small and under-represented business owners as we rebuild our economy. OSBU is helping connect business owners with their elected officials, creating the opportunity to discuss impacts on their communities and the challenges they face.

As we have spoken to business owners from across the region, it has become clear that the needs of a small retail shop on SE Hawthorne in Portland are not so different from a restaurant on West North Street in Enterprise. The same theme emerges: can they find the resources and capital to meet their financial obligations and keep their doors open?

Economic recovery efforts must be clear, coordinated, and free of barriers

For our state to bounce back, we must take action to ensure relief makes it to Oregon's most underserved businesses and create an economic environment that nurtures entrepreneurship in communities across the state. We are calling for:

  • Greater resources. Continued advocacy for federal resources and prioritization of small businesses in the allocation of those resources, with a focus on businesses in rural communities and those run by women, Black, Indigenous and People of Color.
  • Greater efficiency. The $10 million that the Joint Emergency Board passed back in April is now making its way to businesses. When many businesses are within days from shutting down for good, delays could cost them everything. We must find more expeditious ways to deliver future relief dollars.
  • Oregon communities are formed by those who live and work there—the one-of-a-kind retail stores and family-owned restaurants that have been a stalwart presence in their neighborhoods for decades and the scrappy and resilient startups bringing a new perspective to innovation. These are the businesses that help build wealth in rural and BIPOC communities, reversing decades of disinvestment and leading our state forward toward a time when everyone has access to the opportunities and investments they need to succeed.

    We cannot afford to lose the progress we've made. As we face an uncertain future together, we invite you to join Oregon Small Business United to advocate for action that invests in the future of our small businesses — in the future of Oregonians.


    James Parker (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) is the executive director of the Oregon Native American Chamber of Commerce. Ashley Henry (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) is the executive director of Business for a Better Portland.


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