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The state of black businesses in Florida 2 years after the shutdown

Businesses are still recovering from the pandemic. (Paul S/flickr)
Businesses are still recovering from the pandemic. (Paul S/flickr)

It’s been two years since businesses had to shut down because of the pandemic, and that hit many black businesses pretty hard. 

WMFE’s Talia Blake spoke with Glen Gilzean, the president and CEO of the Central Florida Urban League, about how black businesses are doing now.

Glen Gilzean is the President and CEO of the Central Florida Urban League. (via Glen Gilzean)

Black business and the pandemic

Black business are still in challenging times, according to Glen Gilzean. “UC Santa Barbara put out a report at the beginning of the pandemic that showed that 40% of African American businesses closed,” said Gilzean. “And when you look at the disparities of the number of African American businesses that received the PPP loans, that number was very small.”

Gilzean said not having key relationships also made the pandemic hard for black business owners. “Sadly, business owners didn’t have the relationships with the financial institutions,” he said. So it made it hard for not only not having the relationships, but then in addition to not having the proper, proper infrastructure.”

Even before the pandemic, many minority  and black businesses had more difficulty surviving and gaining access to capital.

Gilzean says our region was the blueprint.  “I’ve made the argument to the policymakers at both the state level and local level that this was ground zero for the state of Florida,” he said. “A lot of our businesses were the first ones to close up because we are really tied to our local economy. And when tourism shut down at the beginning of the pandemic, a lot of us shut down too.”

Florida ranks second

According to the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Florida ranks second in the nation for black owned Hispanic owned and women owned businesses. Gilzean said that means, “it’s the second fastest growing environment of entrepreneurs that are black and Hispanic.”

“So when you do the percentages of compared to other states, how many black owned businesses have started,” he said. “Yes, we are number two. But when you look at the overarching of how many black businesses are thriving, that’s a different conversation.”

Available resources

The Urban League of Central Florida, the African American Chamber of Commerce Orland, and the Black Business Investment Fund have come together and created an initiative called EBO, Enterprising Black Orlando.

Glen Gilzean is the President and CEO of the Central Florida Urban League. (via Glen Gilzean)
Glen Gilzean is the President and CEO of the Central Florida Urban League. (via Glen Gilzean)

Enterprise Black Orlando helps entrepreneurs to execute their idea, according to Gilzean. “And then, with our partners at the African American Chamber, they provide the technical assistance,” he said. “And then BBF, their funding source, they’re like well over $100 million, that they take and invest into black businesses around not only our town, but across the state.”

Experiences of an Orlando Black Business Owner

Paul Shelton runs Warwick Shores Advisor, a wealth management firm in Orlando. He launched his company in 2018. In February 2020, 2 weeks before he was ready to move into his office space, the pandemic hit.

Between helping his 4 kids learn from home during the pandemic and still running his business, Shelton was not immune to the pandemic. But, he says there were struggles he faced in the financial industry as a black man even before the pandemic hit. “I actually was told in previous stops, along my career, that I couldn’t operate in this capacity, because of the color of my skin,” he said. “I was physically and verbally told by a previous employer, that I could not represent their firm in a certain city, because of the color of my skin.”

Shelton was able to move into his own office space in 2021, which the African American Chamber of Commerce Central Florida highlighted when he had his grand opening. He said he did not receive any financial assistance from the Chamber, but was very grateful for that exposure.

He also became a certified Minority Business Enterprise, but he said it wasn’t worth it in his industry, especially when it comes to receiving government contracts. “Irregardless if you’re a minority business or not, the only thing they want to see is if you have X amount of money, X amount of millions or billions in assets under management,” he explained. “If you don’t have $100 million, $500 million, or $1 billion in assets under management, you’re not going to be given the opportunity to win contracts, to get government contracts, or to get, state, local, or even foundational funds from other, small colleges or universities. Those opportunities are just not there for you.”


Copyright 2022 WMFE. To see more, visit WMFE.

Talia Blake
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