Sorry, you need to enable JavaScript to visit this website.


Department of Small and Local Business Development

DC Agency Top Menu

-A +A
Bookmark and Share

Fiscal Year 2023 Performance Oversight Hearing Testimony of Acting Director Rosemary Suggs Evans

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Good morning, Chairperson McDuffie, members of the Council, my colleagues in the local business community, and residents of the District of Columbia. I am Rosemary Suggs-Evans, and I have the honor and privilege to serve as the Acting Director of the Department of Small and Local Business Development, which we all know as DSLBD.

I appreciate the opportunity to speak with you and reflect on the incredible journey and accomplishments we have had over the past year. At DSLBD, our mission is not merely words provided in statute; it is a steadfast commitment to nurturing the growth and resilience of our local businesses and entrepreneurs. We take great pride in our relentless pursuit of excellence, our determination to overcome challenges for those we serve, and our unwavering dedication to ensuring the success of our small business and entrepreneurial community so that they can stay, grow, and thrive in the District of Columbia.

Consider, for a moment, the recent Art All Night festival, which was held last September. It was a two-night affair and an electrifying celebration of our city's vibrancy and creativity. It drew over 100,000 residents and tourists, and what stands out to me is that this event was not just a showcase of rich talent, passion, and dreams; it was a powerful economic catalyst for the city. And DSLBD was proud to partner with Main Streets and Business Improvement Districts to make it a great event for all who call DC home. Businesses across the city saw significant increases in sales. Residents learned about new businesses they could support, and more importantly, a culture of togetherness, openness, artistic expression, and appreciation for the many talents that live, work, and play in the District was realized in an extraordinary way, unlike anything you see every day. I witnessed all this as I traveled across the city on both nights. Seeing the tangible impact on our local businesses, with booming sales and entrepreneurial spirits soaring, was an inspiring experience.

After the success of the 2023 Art All Night, DSLBD proudly hosted District Connect at the MLK Library. This event was created to nurture growth and cultivate vital connections within our local business community. With 360 participants, attendees had the opportunity to explore contracting and capital opportunities, gain insights from industry leaders, and acquire the necessary resources for success. At the event, we were proud to witness a small business, which was featured in the FY24 Greenbook, get valuable assistance in securing highly sought-after procurement opportunities. For the second year, our team was also able to leverage our expertise and resources to make a significant impact on a business in obtaining their clean hands in real time. I am very proud of the impact of this event. Participating businesses shared their appreciation for the informative, interactive, and inspiring experience with the DSLBD team. Also, lines of credit were approved for CBEs as a result of District Connect.

That said, it is important to underscore DSLBD's unwavering dedication to creating opportunities for our CBEs. Mayor Bowser's unveiling of the ninth annual Small Business Enterprise Opportunity Guide, known as the Green Book, demonstrates our strong effort to empower SBEs. With an audacious spending goal of $1.2 billion in contracting opportunities for businesses in Fiscal Year 2024, we are not just setting targets; we are igniting opportunities, fueling growth, and nurturing a flourishing ecosystem where local businesses can thrive.

Since the inception of the Green Book in 2015, our progress has been remarkable. At that time, the District's spending goal with SBEs stood at $317 million. Fast forward nine years to Fiscal Year 2023, and that figure has grown to nearly $1.2 billion in actual spending, exceeding our initial goals. Mayor Bowser recently highlighted the significance of the Green Book, stating, “The Green Book is one of our best tools for leveraging the District’s procurement power to support and grow local businesses. When local businesses get a fair shot, our residents get a fair shot, too. Local businesses hire DC residents, grow DC neighborhoods, and represent DC’s values and culture.” I wholeheartedly echo the mayor’s sentiments, and the Bower Administration remains steadfast in its commitment to surpassing spending goals, as we have consistently demonstrated in recent years.

As an agency, we recognize that while businesses benefit from procurement opportunities, grant support, and funding, there is an ongoing need for additional support because access to capital remains a significant barrier for many entrepreneurs and businesses. To meet this need, DSLBD's Small Business Capital Access Fund serves as a lifeline for entrepreneurs. In FY23, we granted 105 loans totaling $365,314, which is a testament to our commitment to addressing the financial needs of our local businesses, giving them more than a lifeline but an opportunity to flourish and thrive.

Furthermore, DSLBD collaborated with the Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking, and DC Public Libraries to host the DC Business Expo: Resources for Financial Success event. This initiative successfully engaged over 300 businesses, providing direct technical assistance and workshops with over 40 providers and lenders. The event played a critical role in facilitating access to capital and promoting financial empowerment in the business community.

One of the initiatives I'm particularly proud of as Acting Director is the creation of the EmPOWERment Grant, which was launched this past December. This grant represents a tangible manifestation of our dedication to bolstering those contributing to the District's economic vibrancy. Specifically, this initiative provided essential financial support to our invaluable Clean Team members during the holiday season. They are the inaugural recipients of this award. With a total investment of $300,000, each Clean Team member received $2,200. This will create economic opportunities for individuals who play a crucial role in the success of our local businesses.

Our Aspire to Entrepreneurship program continues to serve as a beacon of hope for our small businesses and entrepreneurs led by returning citizens. In Fiscal Year 2023, 31 local businesses and entrepreneurs successfully completed the Aspire Pitch, securing a total of $275,000 in support. Moving forward, we are excited to expand our offerings, providing more comprehensive business development training and technical assistance to deserving businesses. This includes a focus on supporting returning citizens and justice-impacted individuals who are looking to establish or expand their own businesses.

DSLBD is well known for its innovative approach, where we consistently seek to implement creative ideas to bolster businesses. I am pleased to say that in Fiscal Year 2024, we have risen to the occasion, demonstrating our commitment to pushing the boundaries and supporting our entrepreneurial community. Last month, we launched the Business-to-Business grant. Grant recipients will provide services to support other local businesses by offering business development courses, cohort management, and program marketing across the Department. These grants are poised to redefine success for businesses seeking to strengthen their operations. With grant amounts ranging from $5,000 to $50,000, we are empowering entrepreneurs to dream bigger, achieve more, and contribute to the vibrant tapestry of our local economy.

Furthermore, DSLBD's commitment to innovation is seen with the launch of the CBE All Things Green Grant in Fiscal Year 2024. This initiative, which was designed to foster the participation of CBEs in the green and environmentally sustainable energy and buildings sector, showcases our dedication to promoting sustainable business practices. In collaboration with DC’s Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE), DSLBD is equipping CBEs with additional training opportunities to prepare them for procurement opportunities offered by DOEE, DCSEU, and other entities. With an investment of $500,000 and individual grants ranging from $25,000 to $50,000, this initiative underscores our commitment to supporting businesses in the sustainability space.

Clearly, DSLBD has been incredibly successful this past year, diligently striving to ensure local businesses and entrepreneurs in the District receive equitable opportunities, including access to contracts, grants, and loans to meet their financial needs and sustain their businesses. It is embodied in everything we do, and I take great pride in our accomplishments. Our ongoing mission to foster the growth, economic vitality, and longevity of District-based businesses while stimulating economic development across commercial corridors remains and will always be a top priority, and the Bowser Administration is committed to seeing it through in a meaningful and impactful way.

I want to thank Mayor Bowser for her unwavering commitment and support of our work. It is instrumental in our journey to help our local businesses, and we are immensely grateful for her leadership. Additionally, I extend my gratitude to Chairperson McDuffie and the Committee on Business and Economic Development for being strong partners in our mission to support small and local businesses. Your collaboration and dedication are invaluable as we work together to build a brighter, more prosperous future for the business and entrepreneurial community.  And I would be remiss if I did not mention the great team at DSLBD, who I know is watching this hearing, and some are here with me today. I thank you for your hard work and dedication to the programs and initiatives that drive our agency's success. I could not do this work alone, and your commitment to our shared purpose motivates me daily to keep pushing and advocating on behalf of the businesses we serve. Together, as advocates for businesses and entrepreneurs, regardless of which branch of government you serve, or whether you are an interested stakeholder, we, as one community, will ensure that the District remains a beacon of economic hope and opportunity for entrepreneurs and businesses alike.

Once again, I express my gratitude for the opportunity to speak to you all today, and I am happy to answer any questions you may have.