The word has a sedative effect. Can’t sleep? Say infrastructure three times.
That’ll do it.
“Infrastructure” has as much sex appeal as terms like bond issuance or ad valorem taxation. That is to say, it’s got none.
And yet few other words hold as much promise to transform Black business life in the United States over the next few years.
Almost two years ago now, President Joe Biden signed legislation directing that $1 trillion be spent on improving the nation’s infrastructure, the buildings, roads, bridges, railways, airports and communications systems that make modern life possible.
Nothing’s fast when it comes to the federal government, but that infrastructure money is starting to flow.
Ron Busby, president and chief executive officer of the U.S. Black Chambers Inc., knew what was coming.
“The passage of the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act represents a renewed and unprecedented commitment to the Black community writ large,” he said at the time. “This legislation will amplify opportunities for those in our community who need it most through increased and reliable broadband access and expanded opportunities for Black entrepreneurs to grow and scale their business through the newly codified Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA).”
‘Newly codified Minority Business Development Agency’ is more government jargon in line with infrastructure, bond issuance and ad valorem taxation.
The Minority Business Development Agency was established by executive order in 1969. What’s done by executive order by one president can be undone by an executive order from another.
Biden made the MBDA a permanent agency and assigned an undersecretary of the U.S. Commerce Department to oversee it.
That undersecretary is Donald R. Cravens Jr., a Black man who served as chief operating officer of the National Urban League and had a stint in the Louisiana House of Representatives before that.
Cravens says his job is a simple one.
“I took this job to make a difference – for this nation and for its minority and underserved businesses, and I am proud to say we have accomplished a great deal thus far,” he said in celebrating his one-year anniversary leading the MBDA.
The MBDA has a range of goals and initiatives, but two – helping minority businesses with government contracting and access to capital – are key.
Typically, when governments embark on big spending programs, Black businesses queue up for scraps – if they queue up at all.
Governments, mindful of not doing business with a company that can’t deliver what it promises, usually require firms they contract with to have solid financial backing and an established track record. Governments often only consider businesses that have been vetted and certified as one that can handle the work it might pursue.
None of that is a piece of cake for Black businesses, many of which did not start with a “small loan of a million dollars,” as Donald Trump once said of assistance he got from his father.
Black business owners fighting to keep the doors open often don’t have the time or technical know-how to get certified, and getting financial backing is often a big challenge, too.
That’s where the MBDA comes in.
Rather than sign a giant piece of legislation into law and hope Black businesses get some of the contract work it generates, the Biden administration has put systems in place to make sure they get some of that work.
It’s not merely magnanimous largesse. More than any other block of voters, Black voters are responsible for the fact that there is a Biden administration.
Politicians have long helped those who helped them – and righting the wrong of Black businesses getting scraps from the government table must surely have its own appeal.
Sound a little sexier now?
Wayne Washington is a former White House correspondent and journalist based in Florida.