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Carolyn Thurston has heard many lawmakers say they want to help “narrow the racial wealth gap” with policies that build “generational wealth.”
If lawmakers actually want to achieve those goals, Thurston says, they must abandon the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, or PRO Act. Two of the bill’s provisions — the ABC Test and joint-employer standard — would be a double whammy against franchising, the very business model that is helping her to build generational wealth for the first time in her family’s history.
“That’s going to be the biggest hurt if this PRO Act comes through,” Thurston says. “The people who will be affected are right here, the women and people of color.”
Thurston, who is Black, spent years working as a nurse before starting her own Wisdom Senior Care business. She became so respected that, when her home state of North Carolina started requiring classes to teach the regulations for running a home-care company, she was chosen as an instructor. Thurston helped hundreds of people get their licenses, and realized that while many understood how to care for people, most didn’t understand how to run a business.
That’s why, in 2017, she started offering Wisdom Senior Care franchises. As with any franchising model, hers provides a blueprint franchisees can follow to achieve business success.
“Our very first franchisee was a couple who are from China. Our second one is two Black gentlemen. We also have franchisees that are single mothers, Black women who own their own businesses now. We have veterans,” she says. “In franchising, there are more people of color that have successful businesses than those that are not in franchising. You have more support systems around you.”
That’s true with all types of franchising, according to the International Franchise Association. The IFA wrote to Congress in March 2021, explaining how the PRO Act would disproportionately harm minority communities: While only 18% of non-franchise businesses are minority-owned, more than 30% of franchises are minority-owned.
“If you want to be about equal opportunity, it’s going to cause a lot of people not to participate in that wealth creation,” Thurston says of the PRO Act. “It will prevent that—especially people who are women or Black. They will now have more things that they have to overcome.”
Having a lot of things to overcome is something Ajay Patel knows all about. He emigrated to the United States from India in 1978, when he was 18 years old. Patel ended up in Lafayette, Louisiana, where the only place that would give him a job was McDonald’s. He worked in the kitchen, earning money to pay for college while figuring out how to communicate with all the Americans around him.
“I learned most of my English at McDonald’s, not at school,” he says. “I was making minimum wage, and I had to work as much as possible to get the $445 to pay tuition for the next semester.”
After five and a half years, Patel graduated with a degree in business management. By 1984, he was manager at the McDonald’s. About 18 months after that, he was managing two locations. A year or two later, it was three. Then, it was five. In the early 1990s, his wife and her family helped him get the financing to add to his own savings and buy a McDonald’s franchise of his own. “When we bought that, I had about $480 left in my bank account,” Patel says.
A little more than a year later, Patel sold that franchise at a $400,000 profit. He reinvested and bought three other McDonald’s franchises, which he built into even more franchising success while raising three sons.
“The oldest went to NYU, the middle son went to LSU, and my youngest went to the same school I did, in Lafayette — I had always told them to work two days a week at a McDonald’s, wherever they were,” Patel says. “I wanted them to learn the value of money, to learn ethics, to learn how to work with others and have relationships.”
Today, Patel and his three sons together own 35 McDonald’s franchises, showing how the creation of generational wealth through franchising changes the course of entire families’ lives.
Ricky Patel is the middle son, now 27 years old, and a McDonald’s franchise owner since 2018. He says that if not for his father’s experience, he likely wouldn’t have imagined that franchise ownership could be a possibility for him. “Franchises are predominantly Caucasian-owned,” Ricky says. “That would have been one thing that would have made it more difficult to grasp the idea.”
Mikesh Patel, the youngest of Patel’s sons, became a McDonald’s franchise owner this year at age 25.
“Franchising is the ability to create generational wealth,” Mikesh says. “It would not be possible without franchising being the way it is.”
Thurston says the same is true for Black families like hers, with franchising providing opportunities that otherwise would not exist. She sees the PRO Act as a danger not only to her future, but also her children’s and grandchildren’s futures. The bill would kneecap her just as she’s starting to create wealth that she can pass on to the next generations, so they can build from it.
“Franchising can help us get on an equal playing field,” Thurston says. “No one is asking for anything to be given. We just want the same opportunities, and this bill would destroy that path.”