by Marian Mohamed and Antonio Nevarez, GZR Newsroom
(This article is jointly published between Ground Zero Radio, an initiative of the Vera Project, and the South Seattle Emerald.)
Community leaders, local small-business owners, and White House staff members gathered at Seattle City Hall on March 30, 2023, for the White House Initiative on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders (WHIAANHPI) Economic Summit for communities within Seattle and Washington State.
The in-person summit provided resources and opportunities on a federal and local level for individuals from the AA & NHPI community. The WHIAANHPI launched on Jan. 17, 2023, with over 32 federal agencies dedicated to developing equitable programs, resources, and grants for the AA & NHPI community, including businesses.
Opening remarks by notable leaders, including Toshiko Hasegawa, commissioner of the Port of Seattle; Sam Cho, Port of Seattle commission president; and Chiling Tong, president and CEO of National ACE, detailed the importance of what these resources would mean for groups within the AA & NHPI community, which has been and continues to be affected by racial and gender disparities within the U.S.
“Economic empowerment leads to social justice,” said Hasegawa.
The summit held two breakout sessions, with each session having a separate focus on either business or community. Panels for each of these sessions included a balance of White House staff members, local business administrators, and community organizers, with the opportunity for audience members to ask questions about those specific resources and to gather advice for their own business endeavors.
Speakers at one of the panel discussions informed audience members of how they can access certain government contracting opportunities. Timolin Abrom, assistant director of supplier diversity for the Office of Minority and Women’s Business Enterprises, started off the discussion by reassuring audience members that taking the step to research and apply for contract opportunities isn’t as difficult as it sounds. She further explained how there are diverse projects for local minority and female business owners to bid on, and that long-term contracts offer a steady income for business owners.
Mian Rice, Port of Seatle director of diversity in contracting, chimed in to detail the Port’s 2023 Budget and Capital Improvement Plan, which promotes a multitude of economic opportunities within trade, travel, commerce, and job creation for communities and local businesses within the Puget Sound area. Rice would go on to encourage audience members to sign up and become involved in these projects that not only invest in economic development, but also in an equitable business model for future projects.
“We have a huge need to really indoctrinate more and more minority and disadvantaged businesses out there,” said Rice. “All the construction and consulting business services, all the activities from our capital efforts, [are] highly needed and wanted.”
Narriana Silva, who runs Magic in the PNW, says having conversations and spaces to access information about strengthening one’s business is a rare occurrence. Silva, a children’s mental health advocate and small-business owner, saw the summit as an opportunity to not only find those necessary grants and resources, but also to develop a networking circle with other AA & NHPI business owners.
“I’m from Tacoma,” said Silva. “So, I’m looking for [resources] that are more local to me and also hoping that this summit sparks a new wave of discussions that will be coming into fruition in the near future.”
Some of the grants discussed at the summit are ones Silva never knew existed, and she heavily emphasized the importance of these federal grants for the business she runs with her mother. Magic in the PNW is a children’s entertainment company, based in Tacoma that offers unique and enlightening experiences at an affordable price. A majority of the money that is earned through the company is then geared toward supporting performing arts students from lower-income families within Tacoma and Pierce County, according to Silva.
“I’ve been able to create my first, and Pierce County’s first-ever, children’s art showcase,” said Silva. “Which is all about encouraging expression and mental health benefits of what comes with [a] creative outlet.”
Silva even conducted her own research to understand which resources and grants align with Magic in the PNW’s mission and the community she works with on a daily basis. On a local level, Silva hopes more spaces to discuss grants and resources, like the summit, will be accessible to AA & NHPI business owners from Seattle to Tacoma.
Another important aspect of the White House summit was to better inform business owners about the ways they can protect their businesses as well as their employees. One of the breakout sessions focused on this very aspect by hosting a panel focused on the current issues AA & NHPI business owners are facing.
Charles Harwood is regional director at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). What his agency is focused on at the moment is the prevention of scams owners may encounter. A common scam is what is called an “imposter scam,” when a scammer calls a business and claims to be someone they are not.
Imposter scams primarily target small grocery stores and food businesses, especially those that cannot afford to lose access to certain utilities. Businesses that serve food can face huge risks if they lose the ability to keep their food fresh.
These scammers “could be ‘utilities,’ claiming their utilities are getting cut off on Friday afternoon,” Harwood said. “And, of course, that’s a disaster, because your freezer case may be shut down for days. So they say, ‘Well, you can stop that by just paying it now.’ Many of those [call recipients] are Asian Americans. That affects every community, including the Asian American, Pacific Islander, Native Hawaiian communities.”
Harwood suggests business owners use the FTC’s resources to help inform themselves and employees about these types of scams. In a brochure titled “Scams and Your Small Business: A Guide for Business,” the FTC goes into detail about the types of scams most commonly used.
“Encourage people to talk with their coworkers if they spot a scam. Scammers often target multiple people in an organization, so an alert from one employee about a scam can help prevent others from being deceived,” the FTC says in the brochure.
While a portion of the breakout session focused on keeping AA & NHPI businesses safe, the other part went into detail on how certain organizations are working toward keeping the people within those communities safe as well.
Andrea Diangco is an investigator for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Her administration is investigating human trafficking and the endangerment of undocumented workers. While OSHA itself does not combat human trafficking, it is working toward ways of supporting victims of trafficking and related crimes.
When some communities are victims of crime, it can be difficult for undocumented members to reach out to the authorities, for fear they may run into additional trouble for their status. At the summit, Diangco explained what OSHA is doing to help undocumented people in situations like these.
“OSHA was recently granted this authority to issue certifications for new visas and team visas. So these visas allow victims of crime to help law enforcement investigate without the fear of retaliation because of their immigration status,” Diangco said. “These visas will allow folks to stay in the U.S. and assist authorities with combating human trafficking and other crimes.”
These visas are a part of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000. There are two types of visas within this act: U nonimmigrant (U Visa), a visa that provides temporary immigration status to victims of specific crimes, and T nonimmigrant status (T visa), which grants temporary immigration status to victims of human trafficking who plan to assist the authorities in the “detection, investigation, or prosecution of trafficking crimes, and would suffer extreme hardship if they were removed from the United States,” according to WhistleBlowers.gov.
Additionally, OSHA is working to help make working environments safer by providing compliance assistance specialists around the country, free of charge, according to Diangco.
“So the compliance system specialists can provide information about compliance assistance, resources, and also how to comply with OSHA standards,” Diangco said. “And it’s of no cost to the employer. And it’s completely separate from the inspection process. And what happens during the consultation service is that the OSHA staff will help the employer identify workplace safety and health hazards.”
These specialists can help business owners establish a program to enforce safety and health standards, or assist in providing guidance for businesses that already have safety measures in place. While these specialists do not issue citations or penalties, employers are expected to correct any hazards their workplace may have.
“There is a benefit to taking advantage of this consultation program, because it lowers the injury and illness rates,” Diangco said.
Despite the setbacks of the pandemic and the influx of hate crimes over the past three years, the economic summit presents a multitude of federal government opportunities for local small businesses, as well as culturally conscious advice that is a step toward equitable change for the AA & NHPI community.
This article is published under a Seattle Human Services Department grant, “Resilience Amidst Hate,” in response to anti-Asian violence.
Marian Mohamed, a multimedia journalist and community engagement coordinator, uses her skills to aid underrepresented individuals and communities to tell their stories. She’s created stories of communities affected by COVID-19, food insecurities, gentrification, and media misrepresentation. In 2020, Marian won a Gracie Award for her feature story about the importance of political representation.
Antonio Nevarez is a journalism major at Seattle Pacific University and became a journalist at the age of 15. Antonio’s favorite part of journalism is interviewing. He loves to learn about others and share their stories. Antonio writes for the GZR newsroom and hosts “I Remember You!”, a podcast centered on the shows and movies that people grew up with. In his free time, Antonio listens to podcasts, hangs out with his dog and guinea pigs, and helps others produce stories of their own.
📸 Featured Image: Audience members listen intently as speakers for the Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Economic Summit explain how their respective offices and organizations advance equitable measures through the federal government on March 30, 2023. (Photo: Marian Mohamed)
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