Hispanic business leaders are calling on the Tampa-St. Petersburg area’s congressional representatives to include help for micro-entrepreneurs in the next round of Covid-19 financial aid.
Latinx entrepreneurs are resilient but that’s not enough, said Elizabeth Gutierrez, founder and CEO of Enterprising Latinas, on a conference call hosted by Rep. Charlie Crist, D-St. Petersburg, and Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa.
“From our perspective one of the things we’ve been disappointed about is that the CARES Act funding hasn’t gone deep enough,” Gutierrez said. “I hope it would go to the very small micro-entrepreneurs who are the engine of our economy locally.”
Crist and Castor hosted the call to hear the concerns and needs of Hispanic small businesses, who have been disproportionately impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Castor cited a study that showed the number of active small businesses in the United States plummeted by 3.3 million, or 22 percent, between February and April. African-American businesses were hit especially hard experiencing a 41 percent drop. Latinx business owners fell by 32 percent, and Asian business owners dropped by 26 percent according to the study.
That has a big impact locally, said Crist. He said Hispanic American entrepreneurs are one of the forces behind the small business boom in the area, creating jobs and economic growth.
One of those entrepreneurs, Felicia “Phe” Lacalle, said she was blindsided at the outset of the pandemic. Her restaurant, Kuba, inside Armature Works in Tampa, had to pivot, adding curbside takeout with a scaled-back menu.
“For myself, it was good as a businesswoman to look at other things in my business and not just be a chef, but to be an entrepreneur and pivot and see what else I could do to bring the community back in. and it’s been very successful,” Lacalle said.
She said a Paycheck Protection Program loan let her retain all of her staff, and she’s now even planning to open a second location at the beach in about five weeks.
Lacalle was able to figure out what she needed to do, but many small business owners don’t know about those resources or how to access them, said Cesar Hernandez, president of the Tampa Bay Latin Chamber.
“Almost 65 percent of our membership did receive some form of PPP and it was very necessary. They are restaurateurs and also within the professional services sector. They are attorneys, they are publicists, they are marketers and they have that access. But the deciding factor is they might be second or third-generation and understand how to navigate the laws a little better, “ Hernandez said. “What we need is to make sure that we are inclusive so newer entrepreneurs who are first generation and just starting out that are not at a disadvantage”
In addition to more support for micro-entrepreneurs, those with 10 or fewer workers, more support also is needed for organizations such as Emerging Latinas in Wimauma, which provides outreach and education to small business owner, Gutierrez said.
Crist said President Trump’s announcement that he would not support continued talks on Covid-19 pandemic relief funding until after the election leaves small business owners “holding the bag.” Crist encouraged other business owners to speak out.
“Congresswoman Castor and I know that small business owners can’t afford to wait,” Crist said. “Washington needs to hear from our small business owners on the front line of this crisis working to keep up with public health guidelines while protecting the livelihoods of their employees.”