Thursday, November 3, 2011

Transforming a District by Supporting Small Businesses

Kerry McLean is figuring it out. But it isn't easy.

Kerry is Director of Community Development for WHEDco, the Women's Housing and Economic Development Coporation, a non-profit looking to revitalize a mile-long stretch of Southern Blvd. in the Bronx. Attracting businesses to her district hasn't been simple. Property owners are hard to get a hold of. Vacant spaces are in disrepair and show poorly in a market where retailers have other options. And financing for the one's who do come her way is hard to come by. Yet despite these challenges, her district has seen a net gain of seven new business and reduction in the vacancy rate from 24% to 16%. Quite an accomplishment.

Yet her experience has yielded good insight. In a low-income market that struggles to show it's best face, the businesses interested in the district are often the small, inexperienced kind. She has found that not only do current businesses struggle to grow, but new businesses can't get a toehold in the market for lack of financing and technical assistance. To address these needs, WHEDco is sponsoring the 2nd Annual "Grow your Business: Financing and Business Resources Event" tonight at their offices off Southern Blvd.

There are three main ways that organizations can help small businesses, these include:
  1. Training and Technical Assistance (in-house or through partnership). This can include anything from facilitating permitting and licesning, to providing design assistance, to doing general business planning and problem solving.
  2. Providing Access to Capital by facilitating access to for/non-profit lenders and public sector resources and incentives. Think facade improvement grants or low-interest loans..
  3. Foster peer-based assistance and advocacy, including seminars and trainings.
WHEDco is well on it's way to working on all of these issues. So congrat to Kerry and her team!
Click here for a local tv newstory on WHEDco's efforts.

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