Harnessing the Power in Numbers: Southwest Strong

Southwest Strong (M&T)

Preston Stackfield, Assistant Branch Manager, M&T Bank

Small businesses are an important part of the fabric of Philadelphia, where the majority of the population is made up of Black and other people of color. Yet less than half of the city’s businesses are owned by minorities. 

As an assistant branch manager with M&T Bank, I’ve seen the needs of many minority-owned small businesses firsthand and understand the barriers these entrepreneurs encounter. Historically, resources to help businesses succeed are difficult to find in minority and low-income areas. Most recently, Philadelphia’s minority-owned businesses reported challenges they faced in obtaining funding through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

But these issues go beyond the pandemic. Due to an inherent lack of trust or unconscious bias, many minority business owners struggle to access capital, secure traditional financing for their enterprise and engage in a comprehensive business network. That said the recent pandemic has highlighted two things for the banking industry: Banks are an integral part of our economy, and it’s important for small-business owners to foster a strong relationship with their banker.      

Getting to that point takes some work; it’s not as simple as opening an account with a local bank. While community banks have a fiscal responsibility to support their communities and the small businesses that do business with them, the relationship between business owners and their bankers should blossom into a partnership.

A true banking partner will help you navigate your personal finance or entrepreneurial journey by encouraging regular meetings to discuss your goals and the steps needed to achieve them. Fostering a strong relationship with your business banker will also open you up to networking opportunities and resources to grow your business.

It is my goal to contribute to such a network in Southwest Philadelphia. I know there is power in numbers, and that creating a centralized area for people and businesses to access resources will only promote the overall health of the community. My M&T colleagues believe in my vision and supported me in creating a new network for our neighbors and local small businesses called Southwest Strong. 

Ultimately the Woodland Avenue M&T Bank branch team hopes to act as a conduit for the rest of the community to create a network of local businesses and advocates to promote, exchange and highlight the various resources and partnerships available to each other. 

While the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed down some plans, the M&T Bank Southwest Strong team has exhibited its commitment to our neighborhoods through a simple beautification effort, where nearly 20 of our team members cleaned up the sidewalk, repaired damage and planted rose bushes along the sidewalk leading to our branch. It’s a small yet important gesture to let the community know we support them and care.

I know this is just the beginning of the impact Southwest Strong will make in our community, but I also recognize the importance of involving everyone reading this in our initiative to fortify Southwest Philadelphia. I hope you will join us.

Preston Stackfield is an assistant branch manager at M&T Bank’s Woodland Avenue branch in Southwest Philadelphia. He can be reached at pstackfield@mtb.com.

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