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What Lessons Are Salt Lake County and its Private Partners Learning in Reaching Out to Diverse Businesses in 2021?

Posted By Regional Development
November 19, 2021

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By Spring 2021, Salt Lake County, in its COVID-19 recovery efforts, was aware of a problem. Amid the rush of initial pandemic aid, diverse small business owners did not connect with resources, for lots of different reasons.

How do we attempt to address this economic inequity?

“Where do we start if I haven’t created a program with diversity and inclusion?” Tracey Dean, Chairwoman of the Utah LGBTQ+ Chamber of Commerce, echoed in a panel at the recent Utah Business Diversity Summit.

Going to stakeholders like the Utah Muslim Civic League, Utah LGBTQ+ Chamber, Pacific Island Knowledge 2 Action Resources (PIK2AR), Westminster College, and Pacific Island Business Alliance with this intention to listen has been critical.

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A group of 11 total partners joined Salt Lake County to build a new program together: Economic Impact Community Assistance Program (EICAP). Several of the program partners spoke about the program at the Utah Business Diversity Summit on "Building Public-Private Partnerships to Support Diverse Businesses and Communities."

“EICAP has been a breath of fresh air,” Susi Feltch-Malohifo’ou, CEO of PIK2AR, said.

A Program with Diversity and Inclusion

The program gave grants to these organizations in May 2021 with the goal to achieve a more inclusive economic recovery. It started by engaging with the partners’ own experiences seeing businesses' needs, gaps, and obstacles. What that looked like started with an open mind and flexibility.

“The goal was connecting businesses with resources, and one-size-fits-all wouldn’t work. We learned everyone has different standards, ideals, values, and sets of needs. We came out with the message: ‘We want to talk about resources available to you.’ Then we took a different approach from let me come help you, to ‘Can you help me?’” Daniel Tuutau, Membership & Resources Liaison at Pacific Island Business Alliance, said.

Partners also shared that this only works if you create trusted pathways and build relationships. Then, they connected business owners with things like bookkeeping, business plans, and networks to help them not feel alone. 

“It’s important to care, but it wasn’t enough in our case. It’s resource mobilization,” Luna Banuri, Executive Director of Utah Muslim Civic League, said. “If you’re a business running long term, you have to think about planning, bottom line resources. We’ve provided that to businesses through the funding received in EICAP. It’s a long, hard journey for them and us. We weren’t built to serve businesses; we’re built to serve community.”

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Beyond the Pandemic

“Everyone can do this; this is not something that we’re all special unicorns. I’m saying everyone can [engage diverse businesses]. And we all need to do this. Make partnerships count and successful for the communities we serve,” Susi said.

The EICAP program’s work is far from over. Creating more trust and relationships with diverse residents and business owners became more visible to institutions during the pandemic. But it’s become clear this, too, must be a new normal.

“Impact investment takes time,” Luna emphasized. “Sustainability is key. Yes, we’re a part of a great program, but we just got done getting trust from the community and want to do this long term. For anyone engaged in diverse public-private partnerships, don’t pull away.”

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EICAP is all about partnership. 

When Salt Lake County first heard about diverse business owners missing out on the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), we wondered if we were the right entity to take on this problem. But the insight from the 11 partners showed us challenging work must be done to solve the issues we see. Together.

“There’s a Jevon [Gibb] fan club because of his listening ear,” Luna said. “There’s shared diversity among diverse groups, and shared diversity with certain experiences that run through all of us.” That’s how we achieve a truly strong and inclusive recovery.