CHAPEL HILL – Mark Little is the executive director of CREATE, a global initiative building shared prosperity through applied interventions, research and policy at the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise

In this role, he also leads NCGrowth/SmartUp, a multi-state initiative to help communities and business create jobs and equitable opportunities; and co-chairs Black Communities: A Conference for Collaboration, an annual international convening of scholars and leaders across the African diaspora.

This week, he appeared as part of a panel of experts convened by UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, its affiliated Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise and the Institute of African American Research, to discuss the intersection of the COVID-19 crisis and the Black Lives Matter movement.

The goal: to provide a framework for developing solutions to achieve equitable public health and economic outcomes for the short- and long-term.

WRAL TechWire’s Chantal Allam had the chance to find out more. Here’s what he had to say:

  • You’re set to speak about some Black communities turning inward​ to survive this present-day crisis? Why is this happening? Is it a good or bad thing?

Self-determined Black communities have existed as long as Africans have been in the Americas. The main reason for our persistent struggle has been the intentional destruction of Black bodies, businesses, wealth and institutions by Federal, state and local policy as well as state-sanctioned vigilantes. In the decades since desegregation (conducted, at least in the South, in a manner that destroyed many Black businesses and institutions) and since the subsequent “urban renewal,” Black communities have struggled to achieve social cohesion and economic footing.  However, this moment appears to have provided new momentum to support Black communities, and not just from Black folks.

  • How is this trend affecting the local startup ecosystem?

We have anecdotal evidence of new startup activity inspired by this moment here in NC.  There are Black-owned firms, in particular, that are leaning on their experience and identity to generate new ideas, business opportunities and greater purpose beyond profit.  There have also been many major corporations and institutions that are pledging support for Black businesses, for example, NCIDEA has effort focused on Black entrepreneurs.

  • What are you seeing on the ground here in the Triangle? How are Black-owned businesses holding up?

Anecdotal evidence from Black-owned businesses across Carolinas and nationally is not good. Black firms are disproportionately those in industries that have stayed shuttered (e.g., restaurants, salons, barbershops, retail). And firms owned by Black and Latinx people, as well as other small businesses, had difficulty accessing the first waves of Federal loans. As a result, preliminary evidence shows that Black firms have shut down at a rate more than twice that of white-owned firms. We hope to learn more in a major business survey we’re releasing this month in partnership with scholars at UNC Wilmington and UC Riverside.

  • Early on, many Black-owned businesses complained that they weren’t getting access to PPP and other loans. How has that all shaken out now?

Unfortunately, we will not know the full extent of the economic damage until after the health crisis had subsided. Will a significant number of shuttered firms return?  There appears to be a good chance that a future federal stimulus package could include better provisions to target smaller firms, but that has not yet come to pass.