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Ohio minority business owners discuss challenges, need for capital with Commerce Secretary

Rep. Shontel Brown (left), U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo (center) and Rep. Emilia Sykes (right) sit at a minority business owner roundtable.
Abigail Bottar
Ideastream Public Media
Rep. Shontel Brown (left), U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo (center) and Rep. Emilia Sykes (right) attended a minority business owner roundtable on Jan. 18, 2023.

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo was in Cleveland on Wednesday to speak with minority business owners. She was looking for feedback on how the federal government can better support them.

Raimondo hosted a roundtable with minority business owners from around the state, joined by Reps. Emilia Sykes and Shontel Brown.

Capital is one of the biggest issues minority business owners face, Brown said.

“This was an issue that was presented to us time and time and time and time again: how difficult it was to have access to capital; how difficult it was to have the technical resources to get the access to capital," Brown said

The Commerce Department recently launched the Capital Readiness Program with almost $100 million to help launch and scale minority businesses. This is the biggest initiative of its kind from the department’s Minority Business Development Agency, Raimondo said.

“All of you here know how hard it is to start a business and find capital, but listen to these statistics," Raimondo said. "In 2020, Black and Hispanic female founders accounted for less than a half a percent of total venture capital investments. That’s outrageous.”

Business owners attending the roundtable shared stories about struggling to find capital and the help they need to get their business off the ground.

Leticia Ortiz owns Tortilleria La Bamba and La Bamba Foods with her sister.

"We didn't have any access to capital, like many of you [we] were rejected or I will say denied from the banks," Ortiz said. "And so the point [is] it made it harder, because we need[ed] to save the money. So we worked basically two jobs for some years, Monday through Sunday."

Sykes asked business owners what they would do right now if they had access to capital.

"I would definitely invest in small minority businesses," Shakorie Davis owner of Next Generation Construction said. "I would open my doors and bring - so I'm a general contractor, construction manager - I would bring in sub trades: electrical business owners, carpenters, a carpenter business owner, HVAC and mechanical and allow them to have the every day experience."

The Commerce Department will continue to focus on supporting minority businesses and bringing jobs to Ohio, Raimondo said.

"President [Joe] Biden is obsessed with bringing back manufacturing to the heartland, as am I," Raimodo said. "And so I think Ohio is going to have great opportunities ahead."

Sykes said she's hopeful the Biden administration can help lift up the minority business community in Northeast Ohio.

"As I think about this conversation I am given a bit more hope, a lot more hope honestly that we have an administration that is willing to listen, to show up in communities that need the help, listen to honest feedback," Sykes said.

The Capital Readiness Program is open to applications from incubators, accelerators and other organizations in the U.S. who serve minority entrepreneurs.

Abigail Bottar covers Akron, Canton, Kent and the surrounding areas for Ideastream Public Media.