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What small business wants from Washington

As native Baltimoreans, my brother Shawn and I had a dream of starting a business that would create a positive impact in the city that we love. In 2016 we launched Connie’s Chicken and Waffles at Lexington Market, here in Baltimore. Our goal was simple: to use food as a medium to create community, and to share the love that our mom (affectionately known as Miss Connie), has shared with our family for decades.

With the dedication of our team members and the support of our Baltimore community, Connie’s has been fortunate to grow to serve the needs of our customers by expanding into new Baltimore locations in Charles Plaza, Broadway Market and into an out of state location, DECO, which is located in Wilmington, Delaware.

Our path to building Connie’s has consisted of hiring amazing talent from the communities that we operate in. In our society, we understand that representation is highly important. On a daily basis we work closely with our team members and community partners, and it is our hope and belief that our collective work is paving the way for other Black Americans in Baltimore and across the country, who also desire to be business owners.

Black entrepreneurs are starting businesses at higher rates than other groups. Despite systemic barriers, Black entrepreneurs are building businesses from the ground up, transforming our communities and contributing meaningfully to the economy.

The rising inflation rates, workforce shortages, and disrupted supply chains that have made headlines for weeks are directly impacting small businesses. A new survey of graduates of Goldman Sachs’ business education program, 10,000 Small Businesses, recently found that 78% of small business owners say the economy has gotten worse in the past three months. It also found that 93% are worried about the US economy experiencing a recession in the next 12 months.

But our resilience is strong — 65% say they are optimistic about the financial trajectory of their own businesses this year.

Small entrepreneurs are often the first to face economic hurdles, and also the first to creatively pivot around them. Although Black-owned small businesses are disproportionately affected by economic challenges, we are finding ways to thrive in a difficult environment and are a collective sign of hope for the economy.

On a daily basis, our Connie’s team continues to learn what it means to be resilient. Our perseverance is paying off and is evidenced by our ability to continuously create smiles on the faces of our customers, both in Baltimore and beyond. By treating everyone who encounters Connie’s with love, our Connie’s team has been able to adapt to challenges and survive the ongoing challenges that continue to come our way.

Although the path to success for many Black-owned small businesses is not easy, outside intervention and investments in our businesses have proven to be profound. One of the resources that allowed me to future-proof my company was the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program that offers training and resources at no cost to small business owners via partnerships with community colleges here in Baltimore and across the United States.

After participating in the program, my brother and I learned the difference between cash flow and profit and were empowered with the tools we needed to build our franchise.

And this week, from July 19–20, I will join 2,500 other small business owners for the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Summit in Washington, D.C. The event will be the largest gathering of small businesses in American history.  While there, we will have the chance to meet with lawmakers and policymakers across the Federal government to tell our stories and advocate for bipartisan policies that will make the government more adept at helping small businesses succeed.

At the top of our agenda is a call to modernize the U.S. Small Business Administration, which has not been reauthorized by Congress since 2000. Doing business changes every day. The small business landscape has changed immensely since the turn of the century, and the SBA’s mission and policies need to reflect those changes.

As we travel to Washington, we’re hopeful policymakers will also hear our call to further assist our employees in obtaining safe and affordable child care, and to make sure the government is living up to its promises of opening its federal contracting opportunities to more women- and minority-owned small businesses.

When we ensure the prosperity of Black businesses, we can ensure the health and wealth of the country, as well as local communities. And while we often hear about the plight of Black businesses, let’s tell a different story moving forward. A story which reclaims what our ancestors knew to be true: with great trials comes the chance to be triumphant. A story that believes our best is yet to come.

 Khari Parker is co-founder of Connie’s Chicken & Waffles in Baltimore.