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Banker discusses plight of Black-owned businesses amid pandemic

Brian Hartz

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Photo by Jeswin Thomas on Unsplash

According to data published last summer by the National Bureau of Economic Research and the University of California, Santa Cruz, the coronavirus pandemic took a heavy toll on Black-owned businesses. Researchers found that 41 percent of the nation’s Black-owned businesses shuttered, while 17 percent of white-owned businesses called it quits.

In real numbers, that means some 440,000 Black-owned companies went out of business, putting millions of people out of work.

But financial gurus like Rodney Wilson, a Bank of America vice president and small business banker based in Pinellas County, are taking proactive steps to help Black-owned business owners get back on their feet, even as the pandemic wears on. Wilson was recently named chairman of the board at Pinellas County Urban League and has helped lead a business academy, in partnership with Bank of America, that helps both new and existing business owners improve their chances of survival in extremely challenging times. He’s also created a program called Making Business Better that facilitates one-on-one meetings with business owners, regardless of whether they’re Bank of America customers, to provide information and resources.

“We have our feet to the pavement,” he told the Catalyst, “and we are able to assist clients that need support.”

Rodney Wilson is a vice president and small business banker at Bank of America.

Despite the struggles and heartbreak of the pandemic, a recent Bank of America survey of 300 Black-owned business banking clients found surprising levels of optimism, generosity and resiliency, Wilson said. For example, during the pandemic, 48 percent of Black entrepreneurs said they retooled their operations — double that of the national average. In addition to developing new products or services, even more — 55 percent — donated resources to support relief efforts in their local communities, the survey found.

The 2021 Black Business Owner Spotlight, as the survey was called, found that 48 percent of Black-owned business owners expect revenue to increase this year and 22 percent plan to hire more employees. Forty-four percent expect their local economy to improve, while 43 percent expect the national economy to improve.

“The Black Business Owner Spotlight opened my eyes to the need to have a presence,” Wilson said. “Because when someone is going out on a limb and saying that they feel things are going to be tight, they want to utilize resources to be proactive. And the Black Business Owner Spotlight really defines the work that’s being done proactively to ensure that if there’s an economic piece that needs to be addressed for Black small business owners, that we’re there to meet that need.”

Optimism doesn’t mean there aren’t more challenges on the horizon, though. The survey revealed that 82 percent of respondents feel that entrepreneurs of color have to work harder than their white counterparts to achieve the same level of success. Likewise, 56 percent said that limited access to capital has constrained the growth of their businesses.

Wilson said the findings jibe with what he’s experiencing at the local level. “I would say the No. 1 issue is access to resources,” he said. “This particular business academy initiative that we’re working on now, it focuses on both startups and established businesses, companies that might already have not only the acumen, but the expertise to perform at a higher level.”

For more information about the business academy that Wilson is spearheading, contact the Pinellas County Urban League at info@pcul.org or 727-327-2081.

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