Philly-area Black female entrepreneurs reveal struggles of COVID-19’s impact to congresswoman

Entrepreneurs from Goldman Sachs small business program have same struggles in common
U.S. Rep. Madeline Dean (D-Glenside) with Black small business owners during a roundtable discussion about how COVID-19 has dramatically affected their businesses.
U.S. Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Glenside) with Black small business owners during a roundtable discussion about how COVID-19 has dramatically affected their businesses. Photo credit Racquel Wiliams/KYW Newsradio

HATBORO, Pa. (KYW Newsradio) — A group of female Black business owners met with U.S. Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Glenside, for a round table discussion and shared how they are all facing the same post-pandemic challenges.

Dean received an earful from the women who gathered at Nutz About Popcorn in Hatboro, Montgomery County for a roundtable discussion.

Lynette Smith owns the small business, and she opened the doors to the colorful shop of sweets about 4 ½ years ago. Smith wanted to open a business that was fun and could involve the entire family. There’s just about every flavor of popcorn imaginable, with every package made site.

Things were going great for Lynette, until the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

She was forced to close one of her stores, and her location in Hatboro pivoted to curbside pickup and online ordering. They made it work, but it was a challenge.

Smith said that due to the pandemic, workforce retention remains an issue.

Nutz About Popcorn in Hatboro.
Nutz About Popcorn in Hatboro. Photo credit Racquel Williams/KYW Newsradio

“A lot of the people that work for me have children that they now can’t afford to put into day care. Especially if they have more than one [child], the price is just outrageous,” Smith said.

She is also struggling with the skyrocketing cost of supplies.

“I have not really passed that cost onto my customers because I feel like we are already a premium product, but I don’t have a choice because at this point, I don’t have a bottom line if I can’t pass on some of it to the customers,” Smith added.

Recent data show that 80% of small business owners say inflationary pressures on their business have increased compared to three months ago, and 38% have seen a decline in consumer demand.

Workforce retention is a struggle as well for Cassandra Bennett, the CEO of ComForCare Home Care of Montgomery County, a business she started in 2017. She said her business went from a 3% employee retention loss to 60%.

“When you do not have a labor force to support the consumer’s needs, the consumer’s needs go unmet, and in my particular business that is not good news,” said Bennett.

A recent survey shows that 80% of small businesses find it difficult to recruit qualified candidates for open positions, and 97% of those having difficulty hiring say it is impacting the bottom line of their business. The survey involved over 1,500 Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business Voices participants and was conducted by Babson College and David Binder Research.

All of the women who attended the roundtable are recent graduates of the 10,000 Small Business Voices program via the Community College of Philadelphia. It’s designed to give them the resources needed for success.

The Goldman Sachs program helps small business owners across the country organize and advocate for policies that will help them long term. The program launched in 2013, and so far over 700 small business owners in Pennsylvania have participated.

Director Franne McNeil says the 14-week process gave them a few more tools for their tool boxes,

“Financial statements, money and metrics, how to value your business, and they have a chance to sit in the seat of a lender, so they understand how loans are evaluated,” said McNeil.

Access to capital is also a challenge for these small business owners. Many of them say they have been denied loans, and have been forced to come up with various methods to fund their work including cashing out retirement savings.

They say remaining competitive in this market is a challenge, especially with many fast food restaurants and retail outlets paying at least $16 an hour with full benefits and college incentives, things that many of them cannot afford to offer.

Dean said she understand the struggles.

“Why is it that access to capital is pretty routinely rejected among small business owners…Black women, for example?” she said.

Dean added that these issues need to be more aggressively addressed, citing the state’s $5 billion rainy day fund as an example.

“It should be going to our kids, our parents. It should be going to our schools,” said Dean.

“Only [in] this budget did we get some of it out for education equity, but we have to do a whole lot more.”

The struggles continue, but these women have been able to keep their businesses afloat despite the many challenges.

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