The economic cost of the COVID-19 pandemic is estimated to be $16 trillion or roughly 90% of the annual GDP of the U.S. The largest drop in active business owners ever recorded occurred from February-April 2020 with the number plummeting by 22% or 3.3 million. Businesses owned by people of color were especially hit hard. Black-owned businesses experienced a 41% drop in business activity, Latinx-owned businesses experienced a 32% drop, and Asian-owned businesses experienced a 26% drop.
Although they are hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses owned by people of color are proven to be more optimistic and more likely to offer support to their local community. A recent poll found that 40% of businesses owned by people of color added new services to support their communities and employees, compared with 27% of all respondents. 56% of businesses owners who were people of color also reported they were optimistic about post-COVID-19 economic conditions, compared with 49% of all respondents.
Business Resiliency in St. Petersburg
St. Peterburg’s Business Resiliency Team (BRT) program empowered local businesses—especially those owned by people of color and women—to enact pandemic-driven change so that they could not only survive but also grow and thrive during and after it. The BRT program was a partnership between Grow Smarter, the St. Pete Economic Development Corporation, the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce, and the Greenhouse and focused on creating business stability within 90 days. Over four months, eight Navigators from the BRT program helped more than 200 local businesses by connecting businesses to professional mentorship and training opportunities. Alongside the BRT Program, the “Give Us Five” program enabled attorneys, accountants, bankers, tech gurus, marketing professionals, business consultants, and professionals from multiple other sectors to volunteer their time, skills, and resources free of charge to St. Petersburg’s business community. Jocelyn Howard, the Grow Smarter Program Manager, highlighted that the BRT program was modeled after Patient Navigation. It aimed to overcome barriers to understanding and was critical to ensuring businesses were made aware of all the already-existing and pandemic-driven resources available to them. Nearly 15% of the businesses helped were Black-owned and over half of them were women-owned.
The Pinellas County Urban League (PCUL) also enacted pandemic-driven change by adapting to the drastically changing job market and equipping individuals to deal with the evolving workforce and resulting financial instability. Their programs operate through a lens of racial equity and have the overarching goal of reducing inequality in the workforce and reducing racial income gaps. PCUL houses a Career Connection Center that offers workforce development activities and helps job seekers overcome employment barriers, the Serious Business Academy for entrepreneurs and business owners, and the Financial Empowerment Program to address income and earning power. COVID-19 doubled the demand for many PCUL services, but they reacted to the changing market by significantly increasing job placements in the medical field.
Charlotte Anderson, the PCUL Vice President of Operations, asserted that all staff are motivated and continuously meet the increased demand. She stated, “We do what we have to do to make sure we are serving the people because we understand that it could be us on the other side of the table needing that assistance. We feel so blessed that we are available to help people during this pandemic and this time of economic crisis.” In 2020, PCUL was able to provide specialized guidance to nearly 100 small businesses, help over 40 businesses attain funding, and provide over 80 job-seekers assistance through their Career Connection Center. Some participants reported increasing their monthly income by $700 while others reported increasing their savings by $3000. All PCUL services transitioned to virtual environments so that they can still meet community demand in a safe and healthy way. Anderson emphasized, “We want people to know that we are here, and we care.”
Race Equity through COVID-19 Relief Efforts
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought and continues to bring devastation to every aspect of life. However, the community strived for resilience by redefining business models and utilizing federal and local aid to survive and grow. Local Organizations—like Grow Smarter and PCUL—proactively pivoted their responses to best meet the needs of the community and meet the increased demand for their services. As businesses, organizations, and individuals continue to showcase the need for and power of a race equity lens, policymakers can be pushed to implement the systems-level interventions that will propel us to lasting, long-term change.
- St. Pete Greenhouse
- Pinellas County Urban League
- One Community St. Petersburg
- If you are a small business owner, you can reach out to the One Community team for 1-to-1 help and resource access (by telephone, zoom, or social media).