Photo: U.S. Small Business Association District Director Dr. Kelly Hunt, second from left, gives a certificate of appreciation to Neighborhood Community Development Fund Executive Director Mark Masterson during the fund’s annual luncheon on Nov. 18. Flanking the pair are the fund’s Resource Development Officer Andrew Cheeseboro, left, and Small Business Association Deputy District Director Angel Marschik.
By Sean P. Ray | Managing Editor
For the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the Neighborhood Community Development Fund was able to hold its annual community and business luncheon.
The gathering was held at Pittsburgh’s Grand Hall at The Priory on Nov. 18, and featured representatives from various businesses and organizations around the Northside.
The fact it had been so long since the last luncheon was not something unremarked upon during the festivities.
“It sure doesn’t seem like it’s been three years ago since we last gathered at this event,” said Mark Masterson, executive director of the Neighborhood Community Development Fund, during his speech. “That was a few months before many of us had heard the term COVID-19.”
Masterson said once the COVID-19 shutdowns came, the fund reached out to all of their current and former loan customers to see if they needed help. The fund suspended all of its loan payments at the time and rushed out “a dozen” emergency loans in less than 45 days, according to Masterson.
“Prior to that, we had never closed more than two loans in any month ever,” he said.
During the pandemic, Masterson said the fund was able to help more than 2,500 local businesses apply for grants to make it through the financial troubles caused by the shutdowns, with 679 of those businesses getting grants totaling $11 million. Of that amount, 58 percent went to minority-owned businesses.
The fund also did Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans and emergency bridge loans.
Masterson said in total, the fund ended up with more than 5,000 small businesses in need of help, most of which were not on the Northside. That, he said, was the reason the fund has begun to expand its area of operations to all of Allegheny County.
A surprise during the luncheon came when two members of the United States Small Business Association, District Director Kelly Hunt and Deputy District Director Angel Marschik, showed up to present Masterson with a certificate of appreciation for his commitment to the small business community and work to provide access to capital during the pandemic.
The keynote speaker for the luncheon was Lieutenant Governor-Elect of Pennsylvania Austin Davis, who noted that this was his first event since picking up that title during the fall elections.
In his speech, Davis touched on the importance of supporting underserved communities, and creating an economy that was fair and equal for all.
“I’ve seen firsthand what happens to communities that struggle due to economic devastation and the lack of economic empowerment,” Davis said. “That is why the work you do is so important not just for the future of the Northside, but for the future of the region and the future of our great commonwealth.”
Davis said in such matters, it is not a “zero-sum game,” and one group of people does not have to do worse for another to do better. In particular, he pushed for community leaders to tear down economic barriers for Black Pennsylvanians.
“Right now, in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 13 percent of our statewide unemployment is Black Pennsylvanians,” he said. “While overall we have a 5.7 percent unemployment rate. Seven-point-six percent fewer jobs in the Pittsburgh region than before the pandemic, with Black and female workers suffering disproportionately the share of those job losses.”
He further said a strong economy requires not just for everyone to have a job, but for communities to be safe.
In closing, Davis gave a call for action for those in attendance to work with him and Governor-elect Josh Shapiro to help build a better Pennsylvania.