Little Saigon mural
The mural in Little Saigon. File photo

Recent studies by both Bank of America and the Asian Business Association of San Diego highlight the difficulties faced by the AAPI community during the pandemic.

On a national level, Bank of America’s AAPI Small Business Owner Report showed that 92% of those surveyed faced difficulties just keeping their businesses open and operating amid the pandemic. Many turned to various resources and programs, such as local government relief payments, to support their businesses.

In fact, 67% of owners dipped into their personal savings to supplement their business cash flow, and 41% cut their own pay to keep their employees on staff.

Yet despite pandemic hardships, the number of AAPI-owned businesses in San Diego has continued to grow steadily throughout the pandemic. In fact, the recent study by the Asian Business Association shows the local AAPI business community may be more resilient than national averages.

San Diego has the second largest AAPI community in the state and is an integral component of our economy. In 2021, the more than 7,000 Asian-owned businesses in the greater San Diego area generated $5 billion for the region’s economy, $43.4 million in local direct tax revenue (sales and property tax receipts combined) as well as nearly 89,000 jobs.

Still, the community has suffered. Business owners report having challenges with recruiting and retaining workers and wrestle with wage pressures amid worker shortages. With the AAPI population overrepresented in industries most severely impacted by pandemic restrictions — restaurants, nail salons and dry cleaners — many businesses in the community were hit harder than their non-Asian counterparts.

Anti-Asian discrimination is also factor. Amid political rhetoric and a rising number of reported anti-Asian hate crimes, more than one out of ten surveyed in San Diego reported being racially harassed or discriminated against during the pandemic. 

While Asian business owners may face a longer recovery time than their non-Asian business counterparts, they’re taking proactive steps to get there. When asked what actions their businesses will need to take in the next six months, 44% said they would increase marketing or sales, 37% said they’d hire new workers and 34% said they’d seek additional capital.

Bank of America and the Asian Business Association have partnered to help the AAPI business community come roaring back in 2022. In 2021, Bank of America awarded the association a $100,000 grant to launch the San Diego Asian Pacific Islander Economic Equity Advancement Program.

With this grant, the Asian Business Association has been able to provide 270 AAPI businesses with services such as access to capital, accounting and financial management, and organizational development. Of that group, 253 businesses received assistance obtaining a Small Business Relief Grant.

We’re hoping to see refreshing, positive changes for Asian-American businesses in 2022.

Rick Bregman is president of Bank of America in San Diego and Jason Paguio is president and CEO of the Asian Business Association of San Diego.