150th Anniversary, Local Stories

Chris Ballentine,Community Relations Manager at Willow Valley Communities

“A change is gonna come.”

Sam Cooke soulfully sang those words in his 1964 protest song, written in support of Black Americans as they fought for equality. It was a time of civil unrest due to tense race relations and a government in transition. Again, change is on the horizon.

Today we’re in the midst of major shifting trends in business and employment. Almost daily, there’s news [-about the increasing number of people leaving jobs and the workforce. The latest Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) reported 4.4 million Americans abandoned jobs in September 2021. Some are resigning to start their own businesses.

In spite of how concerning this workforce shortage may be to employers, it’s an important time to dream and consider the possibilities of entrepreneurship. Personally, I’m excited for local, national, and global acceleration in entrepreneurship. In July 2020, the U.S. reached a record high of over 551,000 applications for starting a business, an explosive growth of 95% compared to 2019. And, according to a recent article in Forbes, another significant upsurge in new businesses has happened during pandemic, again surpassing last year. This increase of new startups offers hopeful introductions of innovation, of creativity and from different perspective.

Importantly, this surge in entrepreneurship includes Black business ownership. Having more entrepreneurs of color, who are braving the challenging journey to create their own businesses, is thrilling. Over the past decade the number of African American-owned firms grew 34.5 percent, from 1.9 million to 2.6 million.

Stories of African American led businesses operating in every industry, from finance to healthcare are inspiring to me. Especially when those narratives are entrepreneurs of color, who are friends and neighbors right here in Lancaster County.

How energizing to look at our local business startups, notably those led by and empowering younger BIPOC producers. It’s awesome to see them bringing their passions to life and offer services that positively impact the community.

It’s crucial to have these businesses become established fixtures here in Lancaster. Importantly, they address needs of the underserved while also increasing representation across industries, professions, and trades. These businesses contribute to a more diverse landscape within our business community.

Also, it helps to connect leaders, whose insight and experiences can positively model entrepreneurship, with the communities whom they serve. Unfortunately, when these examples are not present, it’s truly felt. As an African American male, it’s discouraging not to see those who look like me in areas of leadership and ownership. Even at this stage of my career I want to be connected to peers, elders, and even younger trailblazers who are aspirational and accomplished.

Along with increased representation, I hope that growing attention is given to addressing inequities associated with access to opportunities and resources. In addition to the normal challenges of running a business, Black owners have historically faced discrimination from the financial system.

Typically, they have had to navigate a considerable funding gap in comparison to White owners. Implementing changes that eliminate these discrepancies will help to improve the experiences of BIPOC entrepreneurs starting a business and contribute to their sustainability.

In recognition of these gaps, some are introducing alternatives to their standard practices. Nationally, a number of large corporations are committing to making changes. JP Morgan Chase promised an additional 15,000 loans to Black and Latino small businesses and Bank of America announced a $1 billion similar commitment. Other non-financial corporations have also promised dollars dedicated in support of minority vendors, and the Small Business Administration has made efforts to prioritize loans for minority businesses and underserved communities.

In addition, there are exciting services and programs designed to accelerate business development locally, like the culinary business incubation that is underway at Southern Market and offering to supportively nurture them from start to success. It’s inspiring to see this local movement in our own community in Lancaster County.

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” —former President Barack Obama

Change is up to us. Together, we need to ideate and implement more creative solutions to propel entrepreneurs. Today, let us focus our collective energy addressing social equity to achieve equitable excellence tomorrow.

The Lancaster Chamber is proud to be celebrating its 150th Anniversary this year, alongside our business community. Our goal is to produce content related to our community’s collective business history, diversity, equity, and inclusion and our community’s commitment to thinking ‘future forward’ among other topics. In the month of February, our content theme is Black History Month – raising the voices and stories of our Black business owners and leaders. This article was first printed in our 150th Commemorative Edition of Thriving Magazine, you can read more here: 150th Commemorative Edition of Thriving Magazine

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