As a black female entrepreneur, I’ve encountered a lot of cold shoulders when asking for help investing in my businesses. So when I heard that our state legislature and governor created a new fund of up to $40 million over the next five years to help expand access to prosperity for those like me, I I was thrilled that more people were finding a vote of confidence in their dream.
I started working in restaurants to help me further my education – from hostess to baker and chef. A good restaurant is more than what you see on the menu. When everything clicks, it becomes a social hub of hospitality. So after visiting Seattle 30 years ago and falling in love with fresh local food, I knew this was where I wanted to open my own restaurant.
Unless you are already rich or have rich friends, you need a loan to start a business. This can be scary, especially if you don’t have good credit or don’t fit the formula of a traditional banking institution. And as has been recognized to me by the white men I’ve dealt with over the years, the same opportunities that were historically available to them just haven’t been there for black women like me. This is why I decided to partner with Craft3, a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), when I needed a loan for my business.
A CDFI is generally a non-profit organization and is certified by the US Treasury Department to provide affordable loans and technical services to communities historically underserved by traditional banks and credit unions. Craft3, a local CDFI, offers tailored programs to support people of color and helped me with paperwork. The new state fund, created by the Fair Access to Credit Act, will provide up to $8 million a year to help support CDFIs so more people can access an affordable loan, take education on business practices and pursue their dream responsibly.
When the omicron wave hit, it swept through restaurants already brought to their knees by the pandemic and having a loan in place helped me keep the doors open. Now that things are busier, I’m excited to invest in the restaurant and bring Miss Marjorie’s Steel Drum Plantains – the retail version of our most popular appetizer – to a wider audience.
Part of the reason I’m thrilled our state has created this new fund is that it will help remove that prosperity ceiling that can hang over the heads of people of color who start their own businesses. Existing loan programs such as the Small Business Flex Fund of Washington are helpful. The new program created for CDFIs by the Fair Access to Credit Act is an important step in our state’s commitment to address inequity in access to capital.
The Flex Fund is an important part of this work, intended to support small businesses and established nonprofits. Complementing this new Fair Access to Credit Act program supports lending to a wider community of businesses and individuals who may not have realized their great idea but need help. help with certain home improvements or who need a larger loan than the Flex Fund can provide. I hope we can continue to put in place more tools like these to help people invest in their communities, whether it’s affordable loans or grants to start their nonprofit or their business.
As Washington deploys this breakthrough investment in the work of CDFIs, what we are really doing is investing in the diversity of our communities. For example, last year CDFIs invested more than $81 million in 1,500 young small businesses in our state. By making it easier for everyone to access capital responsibly, we make it much more likely that our communities fully reflect everyone who loves to call them home.