PFLUGERVILLE, Texas — President Joe Biden says he will direct his administration to use federal purchasing power to invest in small minority-owned businesses. The announcement was made on the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Massacre, and is meant to help address racial inequities in business.
The White House says the investment could look like an injection of $100 billion over the next five years to small Black and minority-led businesses.
Local business owners are eager for the capital, including Terry Mitchell, a self-proclaimed serial entrepreneur. She runs several businesses across Central Texas, but her roots are firmly planted on Austin's east side.
“The community looked very different growing up for me. Our businesses were always shabby, but we had businesses. And they were shabby because we didn't have funding,” she said.
East Austin is a far cry from the east Austin of just ten years ago, she says.
“To go to the east side now and to see little to no businesses that are Black-led is incredibly discouraging. I'm concerned for our children growing up that are still in that community that don't see themselves,” she laments.
Mitchell believes there are deep layers of influence behind her decision to leave behind the community she grew up in. Today, she says she recognizes the mechanics of what happened to her and countless other native east Austinites.
“Many of us wanted to leave east Austin because it was considered 'the hood.' They made us look at our community as if it was a piece of trash and had us move out of those communities and then started building it out. They could have done that all along,” she said.
Mitchell's decision to leave and follow her entrepreneurial spirit wasn't easy.
“Blood, sweat and tears” is how she describes her roughly 10-year journey to financial success. She isn't alone in that journey. Several small business owners have sought opportunities outside of the Austin bubble.
Nelson Linder of Austin's NAACP, a small east side business owner himself, says he has seen native east Austinites flee the city.
“People saw the opportunity, and when you don't have any infrastructure or resources or [face] gentrification or displacement it's almost impossible to start a business without capital. And so, of course, east Austin still has opportunities, but the cost of living, the entries and costs of taxes is impossible for regular folks to do that,” he said.
Linder praised Biden’s small business proposal and says he intends to encourage community members to leverage that investment.
“It should be all about giving people opportunities to start businesses because once you start businesses, you'll see differences in homeownership, rates go up for Black and brown people. This is a solution that affects almost everything in our society,” he said.
Details of Biden's proposal are still unclear, but if it is rolled out it would make good on a 2019 campaign promise not just from the president, but also from Vice President Kamala Harris who made a similar promise before dropping out of the 2020 race altogether.
Mitchell says the work needs to continue to address the racial wealth gap. She says, one must acknowledge the history of BIPOC communities which she argues shows members of that community have been locked out of systems and opportunities to thrive
“I think that the funding should also match the length of time that it's taken. I'm grateful to President Biden for taking at least the initial steps but we are far away from actually gaining justice for our Black and brown businesses,” she insists.
There is still time to get things right for the communities who have managed to survive generations of outpricing in the east side. The investment, she argues, while overdue can contribute in a critical way for young business owners hoping to cling onto the neighborhoods they grew up in.
Mitchell believes the flow of resources can help level the playing field for those entrepreneurs. Specifically, the capital could mean finding financial success in less time than it took her.
That investment could've also made a significant impact a year ago for Mitchell.
“It would mean that I wouldn't have had to do any type of community fundraising or ask friends and family to help fill gaps. Especially when we went through COVID and things like that and the salon had to close just like many other businesses,” she said.
While she believes this level of federal investment, which she argues should be matched at the state and local level, she insists it is a positive first step toward addressing the systemic barriers to financial freedom.
“If we focus on those that have the most challenges, then everyone will rise. If you focus on those that are on the bottom, it will serve everyone naturally on the way up,” she said.