CLEVELAND – In late July, the US Economic Development Administration announced a $ 1.8 million grant to support the Greater Cleveland Urban League in launching a $ 2.25 million revolving loan fund. The Self-Replenishing RFL will help small businesses and entrepreneurs in Cuyahoga County with critical ‘gap’ funding to rebuild and grow after the pandemic, with particular attention to businesses located in low-income areas. It is a huge victory. But that didn’t happen without strategic vision and deliberate coordination to turn the course of Northeast Ohio’s recovery in the right direction.
According to the latest data available for Cuyahoga County, unemployment rates among black workers in 2019 were three times higher than rates among white workers, a greater disparity even than at the lowest point of the Great Recession. which began in 2008. The racial wage gap has also widened, with black workers earning 70 cents per dollar on average before the Great Recession to 63 cents per dollar in 2018, according to the latest data analyzed.
Behind these statistics are real people who are struggling to make ends meet. A recovery that excludes some ultimately fails everyone. Regions that perpetuate the same policies and practices that exclude Blacks, Latinxes, and other minority residents will fall even further behind.
To achieve a more prosperous Northeast Ohio, history must not repeat itself. The influx of federal salvage dollars presents an unprecedented opportunity for Northeast Ohio to reinvent what it can be – but it won’t happen without deliberate and thoughtful action.
At the Fund for our Economic Future, a local funding alliance of more than 40 organizations and individuals, the efficient and equitable use of federal resources is a priority, given the magnitude of public investments. How our organization supports more equitable access, distribution and outcomes resulting from investment in resources will be central to our work going forward.
When the United States Economic Development Administration (EDA) announced support for the reinstatement of the CARES Act, our organizations joined together to seize the opportunity. Our Economic Futures Fund staff established a relationship with the EDA regional representative, acting as an intermediary between this proposal and other local proposals (including the winning bid from MAGNET). The Fund also provided grant writing and co-funding support and negotiated additional co-funding from the George Gund Foundation and the Cleveland Foundation.
And the Urban League provided the technical know-how and successful model (based on the four-year-old UBIZ Strategic Access to Capital Program) from which to build RFL. It will provide access to loans to small and medium-sized businesses for working capital, construction and sustainable equipment investments, all of which are crucial to supporting businesses and the family jobs they create as the COVID-19 recovery continues. evolved. The Urban League will strongly encourage applications from borrowers in Opportunity Zones; minority, women and veteran owned / controlled businesses undertaking industrial, light industrial, service or non-commercial commercial projects; and borrowers who undertake projects that have a significant impact on the surrounding community.
Equally importantly, the Urban League will serve as a hub for technical support and wrap-around services for lenders. Leveraging a strong network of innovative solutions to overcome barriers to work preparation and entry, this collaboration will allow for a stronger workforce and help employers choose a site and take action. includes public transport.
In the short term, the Urban League expects the RFL to help up to 35 local businesses, the majority of which are located in low-income census tracts, save 300 jobs and create 300 more, and mobilize 3 million additional dollars in private investment.
Northeast Ohio benefits from many organizations working for a more competitive and equitable regional economy, each with unique strengths, relationships and expertise. By working together, by taking deliberate steps to make the economy work for everyone, the region will not only reinvent a better future, but also achieve it.
Michael Obi is CEO of Entrepreneurship for the Urban League of Greater Cleveland and Bethia Burke is President of the Fund for Our Economic Future.
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