Local businessman Troy Parker said he visualized owning his own business more than 12 years ago. He saw himself with an office, employees and a payroll. It's like he could see the future -- from behind bars.
“The whole business plan I wrote up in prison,” said Parker, president and CEO of Innovative Labor & Cleaning Services in St. Bernard.
Parker spent 7 1/2 years in prison for bank fraud.
It's surprising to many people who meet him. Parker said he has always made a point of having the mindset of a businessman, not a felon.
“I’m a businessman. I walk like a businessman," Parker said. "It’s your whole self-image.”
Like many businesses, COVID-19 has impacted Parker's company. He started the year with more than 80 employees. That number dropped to 50, but he was able to bring back 10.
Parker hoped to get a loan through the federal Paycheck Protection Program, also known as PPP. Through the CARES Act, nearly $670 billion was made available to small business owners who apply for the program. But, there are two questions on the application that deal with criminal history. Checking the "yes" box on either guarantees denial for PPP.
“It’s frustrating. But I can’t say that I was totally let down,” Parker said. “The number of times I’ve heard ‘no’, it’s almost like, you know, I thought it was my name.”
Specifically, the application asks if the business owner is under indictment, criminal information, arraignment, incarceration, probation or parole. Parker said he still has five more months of probation left to serve.
His construction clean-up company had $2.2 million in revenues last year, after only five years in business. Parker said he started the business with only $500 when he left prison and was living in a halfway house. He said he did $350,000 worth of business in the first six months.
His crews go to construction sites that are completed to clean and prepare the locations for opening. Past jobs have included the Cincinnati Union Terminal, Top Golf, several retailers and apartment buildings at Liberty Center, as well as a current project at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.
So Parker isn't taking "no" for an answer.
“He got his act together. He’s got a successful company and he’s doing great things," said Eric Kearney, president and CEO of the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky African American Chamber of Commerce. Kearney put Parker in touch with some key people in Washington, D.C.
“We’ve got both of our (Ohio) U.S. Senators as well as the Congressional Black Caucus that’s working on those items,” Kearney said.
Last week, Senator Rob Portman and Maryland Senator Ben Cardin sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Administrator Jovita Carranza from the Small Business Administration disputing the criminal background barrier.
"The rule should not deny assistance to people with criminal records who have turned their lives around, started a small business, created jobs and contribute to their communities," the letter stated.
Parker said at least 90 percent of his workers are people re-entering society after incarceration or those recovering from addiction. He said he not only hires them, he gives them practical employment training and self-image training that helps them erase the prison mindset.
Parker's PPP plight seems to have influenced Portman.
“Senator Portman’s office passed it up to his staff," Parker said. "Then, some of the information they said they were going to pass on to the president and then Jared Kushner..."
Meanwhile, Kearney said he advises applicants not to be discouraged by the disqualifying language of the application.
“Fill it out, send it in, yes,” Kearney said. “You have to have proof that you applied if there is an appeals process. So, you’ve got to do that. And, you’re creating a record.”
Parker isn't quitting.
“If there’s a will, there’s a way," he said. "We’ll find some way to do it the right way and continue to move forward.”