THE FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT of the Rhode Island Black Business Association, Lisa Ranglin, still sees disparities in lending into the minority business community. She continues to engage legislators in changing that situation.
Lisa Ranglin, a vice president at Bank of America, is founder and president of the Providence-based Rhode Island Black Business Association.
The association is dedicated to enhancing the growth and economic development of Black and minority owned businesses by providing them with a forum and a base from which to compete in the local and global economy. Business development, legislative advocacy, mentoring, and professional development are some of the means to this end.
A believer in continued personal and professional growth and development, Ranglin earned a Bachelor of Science degree in computer programming technology from New England Technical College in 1993. She also is a certified project management professional and also holds Six Sigma Green Belt Certification awarded by Bank of America.
PBN: How much has the Rhode Island Black Business Association's membership grown since you founded it in 2010 and what has contributed to it?
RANGLIN: The Rhode Island Black Business Association is a membership-driven, all-volunteer organization which has seen tremendous growth since its inception. (The organization does not disclose specific membership data.) But, our work is not done and so we continue to reach out to individuals, private and public sector entities who we believe we can form mutually beneficial relationships with to move our organization and the State of Rhode Island forward.
The work of building our organization has not been easy, but RIBBA has an agenda that will not only grow black- and minority-owned businesses, but one that is good for all businesses. And, let me hasten to say that true, the economy is improving but there are still disparities in lending and contracts to small and minority-owned businesses. This is a high-priority issue for our organization and one that we continue to advocate aggressively with legislators. Our organization also provides professional development and training as well as hosting networking events for members.
So what do we attribute to this growth? It is hard to pinpoint one or two specific variables as drivers. What is evident is that as an organization, we will continue reaching out to the community, we continue to listen and we will continue to provide advocacy and leadership on behalf on our members.
The reach and influence of RIBBA continues to grow across the state as we focus our resources on our Five Pillars of Service – Advocacy, Access to Capital, Contracting, Training and Professional Development. We have also seen an increase in membership as a direct result of RIBBA’s ability to get in front of policy makers who can improve the business climate for all businesses. On a regular basis, we hear from members who share stories of how RIBBA efforts have impacted their business. In addition, we have evidence that RIBBA’s approach to advocacy and expanding opportunities for minority owned businesses is attracting new members and supporters to our fight for equality and inclusion. We believe that we have developed a solid growth strategy and we will continue to build on it as we go into the New Year.
PBN: In December, RIBBA received $5,000 to increase equity in access to capital for Black-owned businesses through the Rhode Island Foundation's Black Philanthropy Initiative. The idea is to improve access to loans and grants and make it easier for Black-owned companies to increase revenue and hiring. How do you plan to use that grant?
RANGLIN: In Rhode Island, the unfortunate truth is that black and other minority owned businesses receive less than the one percent set aside of contracts at the state and city levels. RIBBA believes and has advocated on this issue with the governor and state legislators. We believe that this practice is unacceptable and we will continue to reach out until this inequity is resolved.
Economists agree that sufficient capital is essential for small business formation, development and expansion. According to data from the Minority Business Development Agency, an agency within the U.S. Department of Commerce, black and minority business owners nationally experience limited access to capital at start up and thereafter which seriously hinders their ability to grow, expand and to become employers. According to data from a national Survey of Small Business Finances, among firms with gross receipts under $500,000, 23 percent of non-minority firms received loans compared to 17 percent of minority firms. And, loan denial rates for minority firms were about three times higher, at 42 percent, compared to those of nonminority-owned firms at 16 percent.
The $5,000 from the Rhode Island Foundation was timely. The grant will be used to provide management and technical assistance to minority-owned businesses through workshops and technical assistance. These activities are geared entirely to spur further growth and development of these businesses.
RIBBA also intends to develop two concepts. We will design and promote a small business lending model for business owners with low assets, working with cooperating financial institutions to develop and test a small business lending model to identify alternative ways that assets and creditworthiness can be assessed for small business owners with limited assets.
We’ll also advocate legislation to require lending set-asides for small businesses. RIBBA is in the process of crafting legislation to support equity in lending for minority businesses. A loan fund set- aside proportional to the representation of minority groups in the Rhode Island population will be one of the provisions of this legislation. RIBBA will push to ensure that state administered funds such as the State Small Business Credit Initiative are available in Rhode Island to support small businesses. The organization will continue to provide education and updates to our members on the progress of this very important legislation.
RIBBA has been advocating and will continue to push for full implementation of the Executive Order 13-05, which was signed by Governor Chafee on May 9, 2013. The Executive Order 13-05 is designed to reflect the changing demographics of Rhode Island's population through greater representation of minorities in the state workforce and minority-owned business enterprises in state contracts. RIBBA has requested a profile of current statistics from Director of Administration Richard Licht but the requested information has not been delivered to date. We will monitor progress of the Executive Order 13-05 over time to ensure compliance, accountability, and representation reflective of the population that the state serves.
PBN: In an interview with PBN in 2012, you identified a “significant gap” in minority-owned businesses in Rhode Island. Is that still the case today? What progress is being made?
RANGLIN: With the formation of RIBBA, there are continued efforts to not only close the gap in advocacy for black and minority owned businesses, but also to advocate for an environment of inclusion. It is clear, the need for an organization such as RIBBA is essential. Disparities in contracts and a lack of access to capital remain a sore issue and one that must be addressed expeditiously. The Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy, Small Business Profile (February 2013) reported significant inequities in receipts between Rhode Island African American owned firms, Hispanic- owned firms and woman-owned firms.
The State of Rhode Island Minority Business Enterprise/Woman Business Enterprise (MBE/WBE) certification program has a 10 percent goal, but less than one percent of minority firms win contracts with the city of Providence and the State of Rhode Island. RIBBA is advocating for separate goals for that as well as accountability, transparency and enforcement.
PBN: What are some of the key strategic alliances your group has made? How have they affected your organization?
RANGLIN: RIBBA continues to reach out and to form alliances that are mutually beneficial to all parties but in particular, alliances that will assist us in moving our agenda forward. We joined the U.S. Black Chamber and with this partnership, we are working to increase minority access to business opportunities at all levels of government and in corporate America. This partnership will also create unique opportunities for our members as well as strengthen our ability to ensure minority small business owners have a voice in our local and nation’s legislative process. We partnered with like-minded and progressive organizations such as NAACP Providence Branch, Diversity and Inclusion Professionals and Opportunities Industrialization Centers (OIC) to ensure under-represented business owners have a voice at the decision-making table. We leveraged resources from Small Business Development who have provided hands-on training to our members in the areas of business plan development and branding, as well as marketing. We have also partnered with local financial institutions to assist our members with banking related products and services.
PBN: What does the future hold for the RI Black Business Association? What might success look like a decade from now?
RANGLIN: Ten years from now, we expect RIBBA to be ingrained in the social and economic fabric of the Rhode Island community. We expect our membership to grow exponentially and, we acknowledge that this is not going to be easy. It will require the organization continuing to be the leading voice for black and other minority-owned businesses in the state. We are prepared to “roll up our sleeves” and to do what is required to take our organization to the next level. We will continue to focus on working with legislators to change policies and procedures that are detrimental to black and minority-owned businesses. RIBBA will also create an empowered membership that will be able to self advocate for their specific business.
One of our short term goals is to establish a Center for Urban Studies and Business Affairs that will have an education, training and policy component. We believe that this approach will grow business and enhance the core urban communities. Of course, this is a pretty ambitious agenda, but we are confident that our volunteer board of directors and our membership have the tenacity needed to accomplish these goals.
Currently, our members are experiencing success. First, they have aligned themselves with grassroots organizations that value their entrepreneurial spirit. They are now able to tap in and to glean free best business practices from each other. Members would not necessarily be able to access this kind of resource prior to 2010. Second, members now have the benefit of having a credible and respected organization advocating on issues that are important to them and their business. Third, members are able to attend networking events which could potentially pair them with lenders or other resources that can help to stimulate growth.