Female entrepreneurs—especially those of color—are like a miner’s canary: their struggles often reveal larger, systemic problems. During this pandemic, their issues with the Payment Protection Program and child care pointed out failures in how public funds, private access, and the work of care are distributed.
In the US, women own about 40% of all businesses, and according to US Census data, about 50% of firms in personal service, retail, arts and entertainment, transportation, and food accommodation—the industries at the most immediate risk of closure according to the Brookings Institution.
Because women in the Hudson Valley own about 32% of local firms and about 38% of those firms are at the most immediate risk, we may have to listen a little harder for our canary.
As we prepare to reopen our region under shifting policy and aid at the federal level, it can be helpful to remember the myriad free and affordable county resources available to at-risk businesses. The phased process of reopening means that the road will be long, but we are not without help.
For over 35 years, the Mid-Hudson Small Business Development Center has facilitated the investment of nearly $700 million into the local economy by providing training, counseling, certification, disaster, government contracting, and research assistance to prospective and existing business owners, especially “women, veterans, people with special needs, and minority clients.” This year alone, the Center has helped 142 women in Columbia, Dutchess, and Ulster counties secure $2.5 million to create and save 371 jobs.
Part of the Center’s success rests with its specialized counselors. Jean Morris’s specialties are in food and the arts. Although she started at the Center in 1985, she left in 1994 to teach Entrepreneurship and Business Planning at the Culinary Institute of America and returned in 2014. She works to get her clients what they need to succeed in their business and even keeps in touch with former clients to pass along helpful tips, programs, and information.
In her years of service, she’s found that many women—whether they are coming from a financially-abusive relationship or some other transitional situation—don’t know until deciding to start a business how hard it can be to get a business loan. Morris knows that, “most banks don’t even look at you if you have anything [a credit score] under 700,” so she’s created a workshop that the Center is now converting online to help bridge the knowledge gap between personal finance and business success.
While Columbia County does not have a stand-alone small business agency, its Columbia Economic Development Corporation’s (CEDC) mission includes helping local businesses grow and providing one-on-one technical assistance. As such, the CEDC’s President and CEO, Michael Tucker, is an integral part of the Columbia Comeback committee, formed by the county’s Board of Supervisors Chairman, Matt Murrell, to help implement New York State’s phased reopening plan.
The committee allows stakeholders to share their questions, experiences, and resources at meetings and via survey while helping them think through how to implement state guidelines reasonably and safely while understanding the economic ramifications. So far:
- Committee members are working with Hudson Hall to act as a bulk personal protective equipment (PPE) bulk pass-through for small businesses;
- Two Town Supervisors have offered free PPE to help small businesses get started.
- A variety of businesses across industries have stepped up to offer best practices and form peer groups to support and advocate for their industries;
- Bill Black, Director of the county’s Emergency Management Office can provide help with emergency loan applications, which may be needed since Governor Cuomo’s announced an additional $100 million in small business funding for firms with less than 20 employees and $3 million in revenues;
- The committee provides answers to questions immediately, when possible, and collects others to address with the State.
The Women’s Enterprise Development Center (WEDC) Mid-Hudson branch in Poughkeepsie helps a variety of specialized populations including “low-to-moderate income women and minorities,” and “mature adults 50+, child care providers, survivors of domestic violence, veterans, and dislocated workers” start and grow their business. It’s robust Spanish language program now includes a Spanish version of its $300, 60-hour Entrepreneurial Training Program.
WEDC was founded in 1997 by CEO Anne Janiak with Cynthia Marsh-Croll joining the center in 2015, which helps women create businesses “from a place of need at home or in the community,” by teaching them to monetize their passions. Before COVID-19 she saw a great number of her clients succeeding.
Like our national economy, Marsh-Croll saw her clients growing and starting to hire people. She was excited to see funding shifting away from business development to training employees to prepare for rising job opportunities. But the pandemic stopped that growth.
Now, that funding is needed to keep businesses afloat. In addition to the counseling, business plans, marketing, and minority business certification assistance that WEDC normally supports clients with, they are helping clients with emergency funding, long-term crisis planning, and combating their isolation and despair by organizing monthly, virtual meetups.
No matter where you live in the Hudson Valley, if you are a female entrepreneur trying to prepare for re-opening, here are three things you can do for more support:
- Get a counselor at a small business or economic development center, which can help you find and apply for a variety of funding and resources in your county;
- Start attending your local county reopening meetings, for support in navigating the state’s industry guidelines for your business;
- Connect with other business owners in your industry, perhaps through an online meetup.
While it might be hard to take that first step, if you reach out, you’ll find that there are a whole host of people waiting to help you. As Marsh-Croll says, “It’s in everybody’s best interest to make sure that people come out of this.” Despite the many different ways we can experience this crisis, one thing’s for sure: we need each other to make it through.