Press Release

R.I. Black-owned businesses seek a level playing field’

July, 2nd, 2020

PROVIDENCE — Rhode Island needs to do more to ensure that minority-owned businesses receive their fair share of state contracts, Black business leaders said Thursday at a news conference.

But the problem goes further than just state contracts, said Lisa Ranglin, founder and president of the Rhode Island Black Business Association, which organized the news conference.

Ranglin called the state of black business in Rhode Island alarming, and cited several statistics.

The payrolls and total receipts of such businesses in Rhode Island are lower than those in the neighboring states of Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York, she said.

Black and brown-owned businesses in Rhode Island are significantly smaller than white-owned businesses. None of them have 100 or more employees. There are four or fewer employees at 61% of Black-owned and 54% of brown-owned businesses.

Black unemployment is double that of white unemployment.

“We can fix that with stronger and robust investment in Black and brown businesses,” Ranglin said. “When we invest in Black and brown businesses … Black and brown families are lifted out of poverty.”

That was echoed by Phyllis Affra, chef and former co-owner of Blaze Eastside.

“When we lift one, all are lifted,” she said.

“Black livelihood matters,” said Junior Jabbie, president and chief executive of Banneker Supply Chain Solutions, a flourishing 30-year-old company headquartered in North Smithfield with more than 50% of its staff people of color.

In that time, “we’ve maybe had one state contract,” said Jabbie. He said it’s difficult to imagine how other companies compete “if companies like Banneker don’t have the opportunity in a state like Rhode Island.”

He said the ask by minority owned companies is simple. “It’s equity. It’s access. It’s opportunity.”

Ranglin’s association, known by the acronym RIBBA, has graded the State of Rhode Island a D+ for its handling of contracts with Black and brown businesses.

“RIBBA gave the state a D+. She’s so generous,” said state Rep. Marcia Ranglin-Vassell, Ranglin’s sister.

Ranglin defended the passing grade.

“There are some areas where the governor is doing a great job,” she said, citing Gov. Gina M. Raimondo’s efforts to bring large companies to the state and her response to the coronavirus crisis, particularly the reopening of business shut down by the pandemic.

But she said Raimondo needs to do much more, including not sending subordinates to meet with Black and brown business leaders.

“The governor needs to come and meet with us on a regular basis,” Ranglin said. “It’s not a one-time thing.” She added, “We are waiting on the governor. We want to partner with her.”

She listed several other steps the state should take, including creating an independent office to monitor the participation of Black and brown businesses at all levels of state spending; systematically track and make public how contract money is funneling down to minority-owned subcontractors; and continually evaluate contract specifications to make them open to Black and brown companies.

“We’re not looking for handouts,” she said. “We’re looking for equal access, a level playing field.”

WHO DOESN’T QUALIFY FOR THAT SBA DISASTER LOAN?

Providence. April 15, 2020.

The Rhode Island Black Business Association proposes that Commerce RI establish an Office of Microbusiness Support, to be administered and staffed by RIBBA. The Office will permanently target support to low revenue under-served microbusinesses, the very small businesses that cannot qualify for the current SBA Disaster Loan, and generally don’t qualify for SBA loans at all.

In late March and early April, beauty salon owners and retail business owners began to contact RIBBA desperate for a loan or other assistance to sustain their businesses during this crisis. None of the businesses that contacted us were aware of any of the loan and grant programs established to mitigate the economic impact of COVID-19. In response, in addition to serving our current clients, RIBBA has made counseling and technical assistance available to help clients harmed by the COVID-19 crisis negotiate applications for financial support and we have established our own emergency loan program of up to $5,000. Business owners can call RIBBA at 401-383-1179 to request support or go to our website to apply for assistance, www.ri-bba.org.

At RIBBA, we believe that providing permanent support for low revenue microbusinesses is essential both during and after this crisis. These underserved businesses are the core of our neighborhoods – they are various stores, beauty salons, nail salons, barbershops, breakfast shops, pizza parlors, and more. In RI, there are around 22,000 businesses with 9 or fewer employees – microbusinesses. Nationally, microbusiness owners who work full time, earn less than $50,000 in sales and receipts.

Actions taken to combat the COVID-19 virus have already forced many RI microbusinesses to close. Without encouragement and financial support, many will not reopen. And the expected economic recession is likely to all but wipe out RI’s small minority microbusiness community almost all of which earn business revenue considerably lower than non-minority small business revenues. And with lower revenue, minority businesses have fewer resources to help them weather this crisis.

RIBBA counselors and experts stand ready to assist microbusiness owners who need assistance to apply for loans and grants, and advice on how to assist their employees or former employees to get through this crisis.