Main Street’s minority owners need loans to grow, but access to capital remains inequitable

Main Street’s minority owners need loans to grow, but access to capital remains inequitable

As main street businesses are continuing to make a comeback post-pandemic, they’re facing down the triple threat of supply chain headwinds, labor constraints and historic inflation. For some, borrowing to invest, grow, or simply stay afloat, is top of mind.

Data from Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Small Business Voices “Small Businesses on the Brink” survey finds that 86% of owners find broader economic trends are having a negative impact on business. Nearly 30% of owners are expecting to take out a line of credit or loan for their business this year, and 31% say they feel very confident in their business’ ability to access capital. But Black-owned small businesses reported expecting to borrow at a higher rate of 48%, with less confidence about their ability to gain access to capital, at 19%. The survey was released in late January, with responses from more than 1,400 small business owners, including 225 Black-owned businesses.

Business owner Letha Pugh has had experience with funding inequities that predate the pandemic’s toll. Pugh owns Bake Me Happy, a wholesale and retail gluten-free bakery and coffee shop. When initially seeking capital for the Columbus, Ohio-based business in 2013, Pugh said she was lowballed.

“Just having an account at a bank isn’t a relationship with a bank. We were offered an SBA 7(a) loan for a piece of equipment, and it was specifically for that piece of equipment,” Pugh said. “There wasn’t a discussion of working capital and things like that, I think that is the disconnect.”

Pugh and her wife Wendy turned to their savings to get off the ground, and over the last few years, Pugh said the focus has been on building up a network to support the small business. She’s leaned on local resources in the city, attending webinars and participating in Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business Voices program, along with courses from the National Minority Supplier Development Council and the National Restaurant Association. As the business grew, banks sought to work with the bakery. A relationship with State Bank in Dublin, Ohio, helped the bakery to get access to Paycheck Protection Program loans early on, when other small businesses were shut out.

“I think establishing a banking relationship as early on as possible, even if it’s a $5,000 line of credit, or access to credit, just so that you can pick up the phone and reach out … I think being able to reach a person at the bank, who knows you and understands you, makes a huge difference” she said.

The pandemic highlighted inequities in lending, with minority-owned businesses getting funding from programs like the PPP at lower rates than white counterparts. The Federal Reserve’s Small Business Credit Survey 2021 Report on Firms Owned by People of Color showed that even among firms with good credit scores, Black-owned firms were half as likely as white-owned firms to receive all of the financing they sought at 24% versus 48% of borrowers.

Community banks wound up being a lifeline for smaller businesses during the pandemic. Winnie Sun, managing director of Sun Group Wealth Partners, said it’s key for businesses setting out to establish banking relationships to prioritize service quality over the size of the bank. Start with a personal or business banker and set up multiple meetings to ensure that person is a good fit for your company and goals.

“It’s really important to remember that the relationship you have with your bank is a two-way street. They want to do business with you. But you also get a chance to decide whether you want to do business with them. And that’s key,” Sun said.

Through persistence, Pugh has continued to grow the bakery, even in the face of the pandemic’s many challenges. Sales are up 40% over 2019 levels, but supply costs have also gone up 25%. Pugh just closed on a building last month with an SBA 504 loan after the bakery lost its lease and rent doubled. The new location should open in June or July.

“We sat down and decided we’re not going to lose money again on building out a space and renovating that space for the business owner or the building owner, and paying their property taxes. … Let us take advantage of owning the building,” she said.