Marginalized Small Business Owners Across the Pacific Northwest Struggle to Stay Afloat

May 06, 2020

Today, historically marginalized business owners including women, people of color, and immigrants across the Pacific Northwest are struggling to keep their businesses open due to devastating economic impacts of COVID-19. Mercy Corps Northwest works year-round in Portland, Oregon and Seattle and Walla Walla, Washington with economically disadvantaged small business owners to help them achieve entrepreneurial success. 

 Mercy Corps Northwest’s Executive Director, Lynn Renken, explains:

“Mercy Corps Northwest’s teams across the Pacific Northwest are working in overdrive to meet the needs of small business owners across the region. We’ve seen more than a double in outreach from distressed business owners looking for financial support and guidance since the onset of COVID-19, and we are doing our best to support them with limited financial and technical resources.  

“The entrepreneurs we work with across Oregon and Washington have reported losses of $1,000-150,000 in monthly revenue beginning in late March with over 50 percent reporting layoffs. Many of these include single-proprietor and family-run businesses with fewer than five employees. If we are unable to support those with the lowest incomes and with the most to lose, entire families and communities will lose their source of income for feeding and housing themselves with no clear path toward recovery. This includes Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) holders who, while they pay taxes and offer services and businesses that enrich our communities, are boxed out of many relief channels due to language barriers, residency status and limited access to technology.

“Mercy Corps Northwest is actively looking for funders to join us in our commitment to supporting the most vulnerable business owners during this time. As organizations and federal and local governments continue to invest in small businesses across the United States, we must not forget those who are often marginalized and left out of traditional relief packages."

Mercy Corps Northwest has pivoted operations to offer remote services to ensure all small business owners have the resources and guidance to navigate through this unprecedented crisis. Since March, our SBA-funded Oregon Women’s Business Center has offered free online webinars to support entrepreneurs as they adapt and respond to COVID-19, including tips on how to shift to remote operations and benefit from the new resources available through the CARES Act. Our team will continue to offer online education, including support for non-English speaking entrepreneurs for the next 12 months. We have also paused loan payments and expanded our grant programming to support those who were unable to benefit from other relief funds, including the Federal Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) and Federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). This includes distributing $550,000 in grants to over 115 small businesses across the Pacific Northwest.

In Seattle, Mercy Corps Northwest is providing financial support up to $10,000 and technical assistance to immigrant-owned small businesses with support from the Center of Disaster Philanthropy. In Walla Walla, we are partnering with the City of Walla Walla to award grants from $2,500 - $10,000 for early-stage small business owners. And in Portland, Mercy Corps Northwest has distributed grants to Portland small businesses experiencing hardships related to COVID-19. This work is part of the City of Portland and Prosper Portland’s $2 million Portland Small Business Relief Fund, which aims to provide immediate relief to small businesses facing halts in business, layoffs and devastating losses of income.  

Mercy Corps Northwest was established in 1998 with the goal of supporting historically marginalized and low-income entrepreneurs. Our programs support up to 2,400 small business owners each year with alternative loans, grants and business education. We have offices in Portland, Oregon; Seattle, Washington; and Walla Walla, Washington – and in 2020 we are set to expand to Vancouver, Washington.