By Antonio R. Harvey | OBSERVER Staff Writer

Tara Lynn Gray, director of the California Office of the Small Business Advocate, was appointed by the governor in March. (OBSERVER photo by Antonio R. Harvey)

Tara Lynn Gray is keenly aware of what challenges various Black businesses in California have been faced with since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020.

Many proprietorships have closed permanently while many struggled to keep their doors open in an effort to offer services and products to pay the bills and make a profit. 

Ms. Gray, who was appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom as the director of the California Office of the Small Business Advocate (CalOSBA) within the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development, says she is prepared to lend a hand. 

At a luncheon hosted by the California Black Chamber of Commerce (CBCC) last week at its office in the Arden-Arcade area, Ms. Gray described many Black businesses in a “state of despair.” But she is sure that all of them can be resilient in vulnerable times of distress. 

“(Black businesses) have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19,” Ms. Gray said. “Fortunately, the governor has stepped up and provided $2.5 billion in relief funds to all small businesses with priority to the disadvantaged communities of color.”

Before the COVID-19 virus changed the business climate,  California had an estimate of 4.1 million small businesses. ZIPPIA, an online career support company, calculated that 10,287 Black-owned businesses operated in the state. 

Based on data compiled by the United States Census’ Annual Business Survey, California’s Black businesses employ roughly 81,530 people. But across the country Black businesses have declined by 41% between February and April 2020. White businesses reportedly dropped by 17%, according to a University of California at Santa Cruz report.

“It’s a state of disrepair. They need significant support,” Ms. Gray said of the plight of Black businesses. 

Ms. Gray is no stranger to how to operate a business in the state of California. Prior to her appointment, she served as Chief Executive Officer of the Fresno Metro Black Chamber of Commerce and Chamber Foundation. In that position, she managed programs and initiatives to engage, educate and empower California’s Central Valley small businesses.

In addition, Ms. Gray supported small businesses as a counselor at two Northern California Small Business Development Centers, and was a “train-the-trainer” on Crowdfunding for NorCal SBDCs. She also taught small business feasibility and planning classes in Stockton and led a youth entrepreneurship program for nine years with the California Black Chamber of Commerce (CBCC). 

“They couldn’t have picked a better, more qualified person that understands the issues of Black businesses and small Black businesses in this state,” said Jay King, CBCC’s Chief Executive Officer and President. “To be frank and honest, the Fresno chamber was far beyond what the state had done. She was the blueprint for me to follow to make a functional chamber.”

Academically, Ms. Gray holds a master’s degree in Christian Studies from Grand Canyon University, a bachelor’s degree in business management from Saint Mary’s College in Moraga, Calif., and is a graduate of UCLA Anderson School of Management, Management Development for Entrepreneurs Program. 

Ms. Gray is a proud a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, is the recipient of the Marjorie Mason Award (2019), CBCC 2012 Leadership Award, 2009 Small Business of the Year Award, and is she is the 2004 Recipient Of Allstate Insurance Company “From Whence We Came” National Pioneer in Technology Award.

As director of CalOSBA, part of the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz), Ms. Gray is tasked with providing advocacy for four million small businesses in California.

She and other administrators in GO-Biz, are responsible for navigating billions of dollars in emergency and ongoing budgetary funding to California small businesses.

CalOSBA offers a range of no-cost consultation services to business owners including attraction, retention and expansion services, site selection, permit assistance, regulatory guidance, small business assistance, international trade development, and assistance with state government.

All of these services fall in line with Ms. Gray’s background and areas of expertise.

“In this new position, I see it as a continuation of work that I have done much of my career,” Ms. Gray told The OBSERVER. “I’ve been a small business owner. I’ve been a small business advocate for the better part of 25 years. But right now I am learning and listening. I am listening to what my constituency has to say. And that’s about four million small businesses in California.”