7 ideas to help Brooklyn’s diverse businesses rebound

Event - June 2020

7 ideas to help Brooklyn’s diverse businesses rebound

On June 24th, the Center for an Urban Future held a virtual policy forum to examine the specific challenges facing Brooklyn's immigrant- and minority-owned businesses and explore what can be done to help these entrepreneurs navigate the crisis and come back strong.

Tags: brooklyn small business boroughs

Last week New York City entered Phase Two of reopening, but for many of Brooklyn’s immigrant- and minority-owned businesses, the road to recovery remains uncertain at best. More than half of all Brooklyn businesses are owned by immigrants and nearly a third are minority-owned—including more Black-owned businesses than any other borough. Yet despite major gains prior to the pandemic, these businesses have faced stunning losses in the past three months as revenue has plunged and government support has been difficult to access. CUF's June 24th forum, “Helping Brooklyn's Immigrant- and Minority-Owned Businesses Rebound from the Pandemic,” surfaced several concrete ideas to help these businesses get through the crisis.

Check out the video of our forum, which was supported by HSBC and featured Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, State Senator Roxanne J. Persaud, Aisha Benson of TruFund Financial Services, Samara Karasyk of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, Jessie Lee of Renaissance EDC, and Mary Makfinsky of HSBC, alongside Brooklyn small business owners Sibte Hassan of BK Jani and Carol Thomas of Just Because Salon.

Some of the specific policy ideas put forward during the discussion include:

  • Relax restrictions on government benefits to encourage more spending at local small businesses: SNAP and other public assistance benefits have been boosted by supplemental emergency allotments, but restrictions on the use of SNAP to buy hot or prepared foods makes it hard for families to spend at local restaurants that are in desperate need of support. Senator Roxanne Persaud has introduced legislation that would relax how recipients can spend their SNAP benefits, enabling Brooklynites hard-hit by the crisis to support one another.
  • Pool the resources of local CDFIs and banks to create a single, streamlined loan application portal: CDFIs are uniquely well-positioned to support minority- and immigrant-owned businesses. They have the trust of these businesses, know how to reach them, and are adept at making small loans to entrepreneurs who aren’t yet able to access financing from traditional lenders. But navigating the city’s complex ecosystem of alternative lenders is a challenge for many small businesses in the best of times. Today, with countless entrepreneurs in desperate need of credit to keep their businesses afloat, Jessie Lee of Renaissance EDC suggested the city help to simplify the process by setting up a capital consortium modeled on the Philadelphia Business Lending Network. A single-stop loan application portal would allow small business owners to complete one application and be seamlessly matched with participating CDFIs and/or banks that could support their funding needs.
  • Expand efforts to provide small businesses with the protective equipment needed to operate safely: As additional types of businesses begin to reopen—including storefront retailers, hair salons, and barber shops—some minority- and immigrant-owned businesses are experiencing challenges accessing and affording personal protective equipment (PPE). Carol Thomas of Just Because Salon remarked that she has had trouble finding enough disposable smocks, gloves, and masks to supply her business. Although some initiatives exist to help connect businesses owners with PPE for their employees, these programs should be expanded to include a wider range of equipment and promoted widely through community-based organizations and other local partners.
  • Help minority- and immigrant-owned businesses access procurement opportunities for PPE, food, and other services—not just with government agencies, but also hospitals and medical centers: During this pandemic, hospitals and medical centers across the city are purchasing significant quantities of masks, gowns, and other PPE for their employees. Meanwhile, government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and businesses are spending a lot of money to feed employees, volunteers, and neighborhood residents. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams said city officials should make sure a healthy portion of this spending goes to local small businesses and not big out-of-town corporations. Other panelists suggested that the city’s economic development agencies should help minority- and immigrant-owned businesses prepare for these contracting opportunities and connect them with officials in charge of supply chain management.
  • Target new guidance, technical assistance, and grants to reopen childcare businesses: A significant share of the city’s childcare businesses are immigrant- and minority-owned, and most remain closed even as thousands of New Yorkers are returning to work. To help this important segment of the city’s small business economy recover, while ensuring that working parents have access to local childcare centers as the economy reopens, Aisha Benson of TruFund Financial Services suggested that the city should develop reopening guidance for childcare businesses and provide technical assistance to help them restart safely.
  • Cultivate new Business Improvement Districts and merchants’ associations along diverse commercial corridors: BIDs and merchants’ associations play an important role in connecting neighborhood businesses to city programs and services—a role highlighted during the pandemic. However, panelists pointed out that there are a number of major commercial districts in majority-minority and immigrant neighborhoods that currently lack this sort of representation in Brooklyn and across the city. Policymakers should work with community leaders and local stakeholders to cultivate new districts and associations, said Senator Persaud and Samara Karasyk of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, which can help make commercial corridors more resilient in the face of future challenges.
  • Hit pause on any new legislation that could add costs to small business owners: After months of lost revenue and inconsistent access to government relief, small business owners in Brooklyn and across the city are struggling just to keep their businesses open and get through the crisis intact. Any new regulations that adds to overhead costs would burden these vital businesses at a time when they do not have a penny to spare, said Samara Karasyk. City and state lawmakers should make sure that even well-intentioned legislation does not add to the cost of doing business, and postpone or reject any legislation that does.

CUF Editorial and Policy Director Eli Dvorkin moderated the discussions, which included the following panelists:

Panel 1

  • Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams
  • Aisha Benson, Executive Vice President, TruFund Financial Services
  • Sibté Hassan, Owner, BK Jani
  • Jessie Lee, Managing Director, Renaissance EDC
  • Carol Thomas, Owner, Just Because Salon

Panel 2

  • ​Senator Roxanne J. Persaud, New York State Senate
  • Samara Karasyk, Chief Policy Officer & EVP, Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce
  • Mary Makfinsky, Senior Vice President, National Sales Manager–Business Banking, HSBC

A video of the full discussion is available here.

This symposium, the first of our three forum series on how to boost support for immigrant- and minority- owned businesses in New York, was made possible through generous support from HSBC and presented in partnership with the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. The Center receives general support from The Clark Foundation and the Bernard F. and Alva B. Gimbel Foundation. We are also grateful for support from Fisher Brothers for the Center for an Urban Future’s Middle Class Jobs Project, and ongoing support from a number of other philanthropic funders.