Delaware’s black business can lead to economic recovery
The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated Delaware’s economy, and black-owned businesses have been among the hardest hit. Nationwide, 57% of black small business owners have closed their doors as a result of the pandemic.
Many of these struggling business owners applauded last month when Congress passed the US bailout – the largest and most ambitious economic relief bill in American history. The plan’s $ 1,400 checks, expanded child tax credits, and improved unemployment benefits will directly help Delaware families – as well as the local small businesses where that money is spent. For minority-owned businesses struggling to get back on their feet, this economic boost in the arms of our local business communities will be like a godsend from the sky.
Funding for the plan for our states and local governments – roughly $ 350 billion in total, including $ 1.2 billion for Delaware and $ 108 million for New Castle County – also provides an opportunity to ignite the fire. green with long-delayed infrastructure needs.
But the shadow of the 2009 revival hangs over this new Washington gusher. Back then, billions of dollars were wasted on high-profile Solyndra mess and failed rural broadband programs, and public trust was eroding with every embarrassing headline.
To ensure ARP realizes its full potential for Delaware families and small business owners, local and state leaders will need to set clear priorities and avoid repeating these old mistakes. We only have one chance to succeed, and we cannot afford to waste it.
This is especially true if our state or county chooses to devote any of these new funds to broadband projects. To avoid the broadband mistakes of the 2009 stimulus, it is vital that our leaders concentrate these resources in unserved areas of our state where there is a truly urgent need.
Most of Delaware already has basic broadband and private investment continues to improve speeds and competition in these areas. The Delaware ARP windfall is a lot of money – but it’s not unlimited, and it shouldn’t be wasted on projects where private investment is already more than willing to foot the bill.
Instead, state officials should explore the use of some of the funds on public-private partnerships to finally bring high-speed internet to the last unserved pockets of our state. Intelligently identify remaining gaps, then invite every broadband provider to participate and bid.
We need to choose the best and most cost-effective solutions and make it clear that suppliers will have to pay back if they don’t keep their promises and meet their deadlines. Real accountability and oversight will help avoid the debacles we saw in the 2009 broadband stimulus programs.
The universal availability of broadband is critical to Delaware’s future growth and competitiveness in the global economy. But it will take more than just getting broadband wires in every neighborhood. We need to make sure that we also get everyone online.
The bailout includes $ 7 billion to help schools provide internet connectivity to vulnerable students. Our local districts should explore using this funding to launch the type of public-private partnerships adopted by cities like Philadelphia and Chicago, which have been able to offer free home broadband to all students who have it. need.
Of course, students and families’ need for a helping hand to connect won’t end just because the pandemic is ending. Ultimately, Congress will need to back up these emergency measures with a long-term, permanent broadband delivery program. The pandemic has taught us the hard way that our digital divide is a major obstacle to educating our future workforce – we owe it to every family in Delaware to make sure they are not cut off from educational opportunities and economic benefits that result from the connection.
Beyond broadband, Delaware also envisions a long-term funding gap of $ 806 million for drinking water needs and a shortfall of $ 206 million for wastewater treatment projects. Using ARP funds to clear this backlog will create both short-term construction jobs and a better position for our region to support a growing population that will help accelerate our recovery.
Almost every conversation I’ve had over the past month – from friends and neighbors to local Delaware Black Chamber of Commerce business owners – reflects cautious optimism for the months ahead. Despite all the suffering, pain and loss we have endured together over the past year, accelerating vaccine deployment and a bright economic outlook hold the promise of better days ahead.
With smart priorities and rigorous oversight, the US bailout can help deliver on that promise. We have to get it right.
Ayanna Khan is CEO of the Delaware Black Chamber of Commerce.