It’s Time for New Jersey to Follow Newark’s Local Business Policies

COVID-19 has done huge damage to the Newark economy. The Paycheck Protection Program has helped small businesses to struggle through, but now we must look forward. I’m worried that significant decreases in the backlog of work will cause many of our wonderful small businesses to close. 

We must fight for our small businesses. They employ thousands of people across the city and the state, and they all have the potential to become the big businesses of the future that will employ thousands more. The question is, what can we do?

This isn’t 2009 repeated

I’ve read and heard a lot about the parallels between the Great Recession of 2009 and today’s economic landscape. In 2009, governments announced huge stimulus packages focused on measures such as community renewable energy projects

The United States was one of the biggest spenders. This time round we haven’t seen the same commitment to renewable energy projects in communities. I’m not sure we should, either. This time, it’s different.

At the beginning of 2009 I had just founded ACB Consulting. I was full of optimism. Sure, I had to learn new things along the way, and the first year was tough. But we soon passed the $1 million revenue threshold, and we haven’t looked back.

This time people are scared. They’re scared to have strangers in their house. They’re scared to have face-to-face meetings. This is particularly tough on small businesses. Tilers, carpenters, painters, shop-fitters, and so on. These are the people who must fight for the right to win a job. They must prove themselves every day.

There is a huge amount of advocacy for bars and restaurants. I get this. Who doesn’t want to enjoy a meal or a drink with friends again? But these small businesses that we don’t see are the ones that I am most concerned for. They haven’t received much work because of the fear of letting someone into your home. 

If we don’t help these small businesses to recover post-COVID, then I fear we shall lose them forever.

Is the current help doing enough?

To be fair, Newark’s Mayor Baraka has recently announced and awarded grants under the Third Round of Small Business Pandemic Funding Program. A total of $2 million has been awarded. In doing so, the Mayor said:

With limited funds, we are working to help Newark businesses, tenants, artists and others facing financial ruin from COVID-19 to survive and recover. The Small Business Emergency Fund is one of the many ways that we are pulling together as a community to fight the virus and restore our economy. In collaboration with President Biden, our federal, state and city legislators, and our philanthropic community, we are working to expand the help that we can provide to Newark’s small businesses.

The division of this fund demonstrates the issue I feel must be addressed. Of the 110 grant recipients, 32 are designated as food and beverage businesses. Only four are with the field of construction. The breakdown of major funding under this program is:

  • 31% to food/beverage businesses

  • 25% to salon/barber/personal services businesses

  • 14% to retail businesses

  • 30% to other businesses (including arts, healthcare, technical services, education, financial), 3% of which has been directed to construction

Is help arriving from the Land Bank?

Invest Newark has launched the Newark Land Bank, which promises to create investment opportunities for local entrepreneurs throughout the recovery. Of this, the mayor says:

Our city’s new Land Bank initiative will help achieve one of the greatest of all American dreams for our residents – homeownership, in the form of affordable and market-rate housing. The City as a whole, will gain from the jobs created by construction and development on these sites, the tax ratables generated, and the conversion of empty lots, abandoned buildings, and blighted areas into empowered neighborhoods and communities.

The Land Bank has been set up to provide key programs which include:

  • Section 8 Homeownership, with properties rehabilitated by local MWDBE contractors

  • Community Partners, including community development organizations, businesses, and faith-based groups

  • Donating Property, welcoming donations of unwanted houses or vacant land for reuse or resale under certain circumstances

This initiative presents a golden opportunity to help the small businesses that have been left behind in the provision of aid to date.

Can we do more?

I believe we can do more for our small businesses. We must advocate and lobby for construction projects to include minimum levels of resident and local business participation.

The City of Newark has been among the leaders in the state by contracting work to the local business community and residents – on projects paid for by their own tax dollars. Since 2010, I have personally managed projects that have met over 40% resident participation and 30% local business participation. It is time that our state, counties, cities, and municipalities followed this lead.

We must lobby the governor to set up a focus group to review the local, county, and state policies. My hope is that this review will provide positive recommendations that local municipalities will implement to help the same people that are footing the bill: our residents and our small local businesses.

To join me in this crusade, contact us.

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