One of the major challenges entrepreneurs confront is lack of quality, affordable capital. Banks favor large corporations over independent businesses -- and, with racial and gender discrimination widespread, they are making it especially hard for entrepreneurs of color and women entrepreneurs of all races to launch and expand their own businesses. This hurts the small business sector and the country overall by contributing to wealth inequality and compounding the racial wealth gap.
We, the undersigned small business owners, support a set of comprehensive banking and capital access reforms that ensure transparency, fairness, and equity in small business lending, including legislation that:
- Protects small businesses from predatory lenders and debt collectors
- Makes SBA loans more available and a better match for small businesses
- Eliminates bank processing lag time that slows down cash flow
- Provides more financing that focuses on community reinvestment instead of extraction from communities
- Strengthens anti-discrimination protections
- Protects businesses from cyber-fraud and cyberattack
- Provides alternatives to the friends-and-family network for capital
When lawmakers consider policy solutions to address these issues, we call on them to keep in mind these core small business ideals:
- Banks and other financial institutions, in exchange for charters and/or licenses to do business, should serve the public interest (and not only shareholders) -- they receive public support to exist, play an important structural role in our economy, and have fundamental obligations to the public.
- Racial, gender, and economic equity are central to the public interest. Our current financial system reflects centuries of inequity. We need a system of capital access that moves us toward rebuilding that system based on principles of equity.
- Small businesses should receive capital on an equitable basis and on fair terms, taking broader equity concerns and community needs into account. We need protection against predatory inclusion or infusions of capital that promote displacement and further inequity.
We come together in the halls of power and across the media as small business owners because we need to grab our good name back from corporations and lobbyists. On issue after issue, we stand for an alternative economic point of view: it’s about community, customer demand, social justice and sustainable business models. While we come together to advocate we are also exploring ways to provide concrete, hands-on assistance to our members.
Our Washington state affiliate has launched a collaboration with the Oakland-based Beneficial State Foundation to tackle the small business issue #1: access to credit.
Over sixty Spokane mom-n-pops and their community allies and customers came out to connect and share ideas about alternatives to big banks and Wall Street who extract wealth from our communities and rig the marketplace against small businesses. Owners of retail stores, restaurants, small manufacturers, dry cleaners, mechanics, IT and health professionals, consultants, artists and everyone in between joined in to brainstorm ways to bring together values-driven lending institutions and good providers of financial know-how assistance and Main Street Alliance members.
Kat Taylor, CEO and Founder of Oakland-based Beneficial State Bank and Foundation, as well as the Bank and Foundation officers, visited Spokane for the occasion and got to hear a range of entrepreneurial experiences with financial institutions. The picture, as you may suspect, is not that pretty, especially for women owners, people of color, immigrants and first-generation entrepreneurs. When it comes to being treated well by the banking industry, every small business has a horror story.
Our goal is to produce a valuable and vetted portal of values-driven lenders and service providers across Washington and beyond and to work actively on connecting them with small businesses. When we strengthen the business operations of our own members, we also strengthen our local economies and our ability to have impact on local and statewide policy debates.
We envision a banking industry that is fair to the person with the least bargaining power, provides access to financial services for all our communities, particularly the under-served. We envision lending institutions that promote the stability of the financial system and contribute to the sustainability of our environmental commons.
In other words, we believe that money should serve people, not the other way around. We call our new project Building Main Street. Let’s build strong local economies, improve quality of life for each of us, and make widespread gains in social equity and environmental renewal. Main Street, not Wall Street.
Here is a little glimpse from Spokane. Stay in touch with our Washington affiliate and let them know what you think.
On June16, the House Small Business Committee Subcommittee on Economic Growth, Capital Access and Taxes held a hearing entitled The Dodd-Frank Act: Impact on Small Business Lending. The Main Street Alliance's Bill Daley was invited to testify on behalf of businesses in our network. See the clip of Bill's testimony:
The country observed National Small Business Week in May (see the Presidential Proclamation). The Main Street Alliance marked the occasion by releasing its “State of the Small Business Nation – 2011.” This white paper includes a “Small Business Top Ten List” of concrete policy opportunities to level the playing field for small businesses and help them create jobs.
While pundits and politicians like to label policies “pro-business” or “anti-business,” as if there were one unified business interest, the reality is that policies that make winners out of some businesses make losers out of others. As Bruce Josten, the chief lobbyist of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, put it, “You’re never going to have one hundred percent unanimity. Never. There is inherent tension… I laugh every day when someone calls and asks what does the business community think.” (1)
While Mr. Josten pointed to tensions between oil and gas companies, wholesalers and retailers, investment banks and retail banks – all big corporate players – his point applies even more so to the dynamics between big business and small business. While pundits and politicians like to lump all business interests together, the truth is that policies that benefit large corporate players very often tilt the playing field against small businesses.
In a cover letter to President Obama, senior administration officials, and congressional leaders on May 18, Main Street Alliance business leaders wrote:
Our members come from states across the country and a wide range of sectors, but we are united by a common set of values – small business values. We believe in what we do, we stand by our products and services, and we want people in government and corporate leadership who do the same. We stand for fair play and a level playing field. We stand for having each other’s backs. We believe America’s future prosperity depends on everyone contributing their fair share.
These small business values are what guide our business decisions and our commitment to advancing policies that fulfill the promise of an economy that works for all of us – small businesses, our employees, and the communities that sustain us.
(1) James Verini, “Show Him the Money,” Washington Monthly, July/August 2010, http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2010/1007.verini.html