At the U.S. Department of Commerce, Women’s History Month is an opportunity to highlight the strength, tenacity, and determination of women in American society. It’s also a time to honor women business leaders and their contributions to the American economy and to encourage the next generation of female leaders to fully participate in economic opportunities available to build a more equitable, inclusive, and diverse economy that works for all Americans.
According to the Census Bureau, women-owned firms made up only 19.9% of all businesses that employed people in the United States in 2018 and only 6.5% of those firms were in the manufacturing sector.
The COVID-19 pandemic caused massive disruption to the American economy and many small business employers were hard-hit in regions all across the country.
One resilient female business leader is Karen Primak, CEO of IPAK, Inc. a full-service packaging and fulfillment company offering inventory management, warehousing, and supply chain services to Fortune 1000 companies and to the state and federal government. IPAK, Inc. operates two facilities in Camden, New Jersey that delivers products all over the world.
Since having a small lemonade stand as a young child, Ms. Primak always had an entrepreneurial spirit and a dream of starting her own business. Launching IPAK has enabled her to build a company that supports the same spirit and give her employees the opportunity to grow into their potential. Of its 100 employees, 68% are women, 73% identify as people of color, and 55% reside in economically disadvantaged Camden.
“As a certified HUBZone business, we’re committed to hiring from underserved communities. Leading an organization that understands that you need to meet people where they are and encourage learning and success has been amazingly rewarding and would not have been possible if I hadn’t started IPAK,” said Ms. Primak.
Throughout the pandemic, Ms. Primak managed to keep all of her staff on board, institute new protocols to keep them safe and kept her doors open for business. However, due to the pandemic the company did see a decrease in revenue and so she decided to reach out to the Cooperative Business Assistance Corporation (CBAC), an EDA-funded Revolving Loan Fund (RLF) administrator to apply for a loan.
“I was introduced to CBAC by one of their other customers and knew they were legitimate because they were a certified CDFI and a member of an organization I value, the South Jersey Chamber of Commerce. We had an amazing experience working with them. They went through the loan process quickly, even though they were very busy, and it was the middle of the pandemic,” she recalls.
“Their investment came at a critical time for IPAK, given decreased revenue due to the pandemic and our prioritization of the retention of our workforce. The funds were used for working capital,” said Ms. Primak.”
Thanks to the loan from CBDC, IPAK, Inc. continued to persevere through the pandemic, keep its business in operation and not let go of a single employee.
“I am honored to be part of an organization that is playing a vital role in helping Americans recover from the economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic,” said U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development Alejandra Castillo. “Women’s History Month serves as an opportunity to highlight the contributions women make to the American economy, and to support the women business leaders who make it their mission to lift up underserved communities, so their dreams are realized too.”