Community Development Program Centers on Expanding Entrepreneurship in African American Communities

March 8, 2016
By Sarah Pope, Editor


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Melissa Sims, a resident of Kansas City, Kan., wants to see her community thrive.

More than 150 community leaders, small business owners and others with a vested interest in the health of their Kansas City metro area neighborhoods learned more about resources the Kansas City Fed has designed to support their efforts at a recent event hosted by the Bank.

The March 7 program, “Entrepreneurship as an Economic Development Strategy in African American Communities,” also provided a forum for many to connect with each other and the Federal Reserve.

"Here at the Fed, we build relationships,” Vice President Tammy Edwards, Community Affairs, told the group. “It is our hope to utilize our relationship with you to address the community and economic development issues that face low- to moderate -income communities throughout our seven-state District.”

Participants represented a wide variety of community groups and a range of roles, but dedication to their community was a common theme. Melissa Sims, a resident of Wyandotte County, attended the program to learn more about available resources to further economic growth.

“I live in a community that used to be thriving,” she said. “I want to work to help us recover our strength once again.”

Chandra Clark, of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Kansas City, focuses on college career readiness for high school participants.

At my organization we want to empower youth and tell them about the benefits of education,” she said. “From the Fed today, I want to learn where we are as far as economic development for minority communities. I really want to better understand what we are facing and what I can provide to help.”

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Maria Kline from Kansas City, Kan., attended Monday's session for input on additional things she can do to improve her community beyond the programs she is already leading.

The program included a presentation from Dell Gines, Senior Community Development Advisor, who shared components of the Grow Your Own program, which includes strategies to improve local economies and reduce economic disparity. The Bank recently released a book on the topic: Entrepreneurship Based Economic Development for Local Communities. Dell said he is passionate about the topic of entrepreneurship-based economic development, particularly as it relates to improving underserved and low- to moderate-income communities.

“How do you create growth in communities that have been traditionally under-represented?” he said. “Everyone here wants their community to be a place where your kids want to live, play and work.”

The presentation includes statistics about poverty, unemployment, employment and job creation nationally, within Kansas City, Mo., and Kansas City, Kan.

“One out of every three African American people in Kansas City, Mo., is living in poverty,” Dell said during his presentation. “In Kansas City, Kan., it’s worse.”

Dell urged participants to think about the constraints and positives related to small businesses growth in their communities. He stressed that encouraging the formation of smaller-scale entrepreneurs can lead to real economic growth.

“I’m going to repeat something I heard from Mark Holland, the mayor of Kansas City, Kan.,” Dell told the group. “Why is it that when we want to entice a big company to our city that we roll out the red carpet, but when we talk about a small business, we roll out the red tape?”

Dell stressed how entrepreneurship can spur community reinvestment that supports stronger local economies because when people spend money at locally owned businesses, the money tends to stay in the community. The majority of minority-owned small businesses in Kansas City Mo., and Kansas today are oriented toward the service industry and health care, such as janitorial services and day care centers.

“These are small and successful, but they aren’t scalable,” he said. “What we hope to see is enhanced understanding of how to build a small business and turn it into something that will grow, that will provide jobs.”

There is great potential in the market, Dell said, and he is hopeful that community support can bolster more entrepreneurial ventures.

“Not all of the news is bad,” he said. “We are seeing positive trends and we are seeing growth.”

During the event, participants at each table were asked to discuss what’s working and what’s not working to support entrepreneurship in their communities.

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Theresa Garza Ruiz, a community leader, attended Monday's luncheon to learn about strategies to support economic development in predominantly minority communities.

Dell stressed how entrepreneurship can spur community reinvestment that supports stronger local economies because when people spend money at locally owned businesses, the money tends to stay in the community. The majority of minority-owned small businesses in Kansas City Mo., and Kansas today are oriented toward the service industry and health care, such as janitorial services and day care centers.

“These are small and successful, but they aren’t scalable,” he said. “What we hope to see is enhanced understanding of how to build a small business and turn it into something that will grow, that will provide jobs.”

There is great potential in the market, Dell said, and he is hopeful that community support can bolster more entrepreneurial ventures.

“Not all of the news is bad,” he said. “We are seeing positive trends and we are seeing growth.”

During the event, participants at each table were asked to discuss what’s working and what’s not working to support entrepreneurship in their communities.

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Chandra Clark, of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Kansas City, networks at the Community Development roundtable.

Tommy Wilson, a member of a Community Action Program based out of Kansas City, Kan., said that he sees strong communities serving as a backbone to growth in underserved neighborhoods.

“You have people who have been there long term and they know their communities,” he said. “But the downside is the skill level of the labor pool. I also see young people who were not inspired for excellence by their upbringing. I hate to make a blanket statement, but it may be true. We need to teach younger generations that there are options.”

Algernon Baker, pastor at Bethel Family Worship Center, agreed with both points, adding that the Kansas City region has an advantage in that residents take ownership of their city. 

“I’m not originally from here so I can see that Kansas City has a certain kind of pride all its own—on both sides of the state line,” he said. “They have a way of saying: This is our city.”

The Bank collected responses from all participants and will compile a list to see where there are consistencies on major opportunities and challenges.

“From there, we want to see who we can get together and what we want to do to address the points raised,” Dell said. “Today’s event met our first objective, which is to have community conversations and address feedback in a meaningful way.”

The Bank will host a similar program on Monday, March 14, in Denver and additional Grow Your Own programs will be held throughout the year.