In her role as one of the moderators in Wednesday night’s Democratic debate in Las Vegas, NBC News chief White House correspondent and MSNBC Live host Hallie Jackson, directed one of her questions first to candidate Vice President Joe Biden, and then to Mayor Pete Buttigieg. She wanted a pointed answer regarding their campaigns’ plans for taxes on small business owners generally, but more surprisingly and specifically, on Latinos business owners.
In the ninth Democratic debate of this lengthy campaign season, it was one of the first lines of questioning about Latinos that was not about immigration or border-related issues. Jackson pointed out in her question that Latinos own “one out of every four new small businesses in the United States.” But Latino-owned businesses don’t just account for 25% of new small businesses, Latino entrepreneurs are starting new companies at more than twice the rate of all other groups combined. And some of the candidates have taken notice.
The discussion quickly pivoted from tax policies on small business owners, a long favored topic of conversation for presidential debates, but rarely squarely focused on the Latino slice, to how to generation wealth in communities of color. Three of the six candidates touted plans that range from changing the tax code to allowing more Latino and Black Americans to access capital; recognizing that investing in Latino entrepreneurship is an investment in the future of America; to highlighting the glaring $7 billion gap between white entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs of color, noting that taxes alone won’t be able solve this.
Indeed, the solution for closing this $7 billion gap will not only be a change in the tax code, or only granting communities of color more access to capital, it must be a suite of actions. Of course, it is good to have small business creation, but it is equally important to see small businesses thrive. Nobody on the debate stage said it, but if Latino-owned businesses were to scale (to $1 million or more in revenue) at the same rate as white-owned businesses, an estimated $1.47 trillion dollars could be added to the economy. And those trillions of dollars would mean a lot- not just for Latinos, but for the whole country.
Outside of the 2020 spotlight, we and others have long been making this case. The Aspen Institute Forum on Latino Business Growth has just released A Playbook for Scaling Latino-Owned Businesses, laying out many solutions and concrete actions, which yes, include creating the conditions for better and more fair access to capital, but also include things like influencing narratives to better reflect the contributions Latinos, and other communities of color, make to this country, and fostering an ecosystem that allows Latino-owned businesses to expand into new markets and not just grow, but scale. Only 3% of Latino-owned businesses scale right now, so the opportunity is ripe to put into motion the plays we’ve laid out in the Playbook to address this challenge.
All candidates should have plans for supporting Latino business in their platforms, no matter the party. Public policymakers must work together to serve the needs of Latinos beyond the usual immigration narrative. They should develop policy proposals that consider the needs of and champion the assets of Latinos and other underrepresented communities, not just as soundbites for the debate stage, but as thought-out policy strategies that can be implemented.