By Natalie Anderson
SALISBURY — Earlier this year, city council members pledged to continue progressing toward an equitable government for all. Mayor Karen Alexander has credited one new initiative as another step toward that goal.
Both local and national business leaders gathered virtually Thursday to discuss Salisbury’s recent partnership with Operation HOPE to grow and support 1 million Black-owned businesses across the nation over a decade.
Operation HOPE is a nonprofit founded by John Hope Bryant in 1992 to support financial literacy and economic education to low- and moderate-income adults and youth. The program made its way to Salisbury at First Horizon Bank in 2009. In 2018, Bryant began a new initiative known as the “1MBB” initiative, or “1 Million Black Business and Entrepreneur” program.
Alexander announced the city’s partnership with 1MBB Tuesday during the city council meeting. Salisbury is now the second city in the nation to opt into the initiative.
“Salisbury is what we’re calling ‘small and mighty,’ ” said Jessica Bergeron of Operation HOPE during the discussion.
Bryant, who still serves as Operation HOPE chairman and CEO, spoke of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his fight for economic equality for all. Bryant said a model such as this is “a coalition of the willing” that King would have wanted, adding that economic development “is the new movement for social justice that can be seen today.”
“I think the 1MBB initiative is an opportunity for us to win in the suites and not in the streets,” Bryant said. “We want more GDP in this country. That comes with us not fighting with each other, but helping.”
Bryant said African-Americans remain the only people enslaved on American soil who were not compensated for their work and “became the capital” they struggle to obtain today. Entrepreneurship and business development continues to be the biggest source of wealth and capital for Americans in a consumer-driven market, he added. And it’s estimated the U.S. has up to 3% of unreleased GDP that’s available “if we can just stop arguing over stupid stuff and work together.”
Additionally, it’s estimated the U.S. has lost out on $16 trillion over the last 20 years alone due to Black discrimination, Bryant said. Of the 30 million businesses in the nation, only 2.7 million are Black-owned. Further, more than 95% of Black businesses don’t have an employee.
The goal for the 1MBB initiative is to impact 1 million Black-owned businesses by 2030 by strengthening those that currently exist, providing financial coaching and resources for successful business models and working toward equitable investments for business start-ups. Impacts also include building the community coalition and creating a dynamic and supportive atmosphere for Black entrepreneurs.
Bryant said Shopify, an online retail resource, is partnering with Operation HOPE to provide every business that signs up for the program a $25,000 package that includes small business plan builder technology, education on increasing credit scores to invest in new capital, a free e-store platform, a free website and numerous other tools and resources.
There is no cost to the city because Operation HOPE is using its national partners to fund the 1MBB initiative. The city’s role will include a commitment to review its own procurement processes and support the work from the community coalition. Additionally, the city has a goal of implementing 100 businesses per year over the decade.
The city will also support Black entrepreneurs and existing business owners with the help of the Rowan County Chamber Minority Business Council.
Alexander said First Horizons reports more than 2,500 locals have gone through the Operation HOPE financial literacy program in Salisbury. As a result, she said, 100 businesses per year is doable.
If only 10,000 nonprofits across the nation committed to standing up Black businesses, Bryant said, reaching the 1 million Black-owned businesses goal would be an easy task.
John Everett, who works at Hood Theological Seminary and sits on the Chamber’s Minority Business Council, said recent monthly sessions have informed members of the history of Black businesses in Salisbury, the challenges and successes faced and how to gain traction in one’s business amid the pandemic. Other resources the council provides include education on applying for business loans, marketing and finding capital.
“When Black businesses thrive in Salisbury and this nation, this steam-rolling progression will impact all citizens of Salisbury, Rowan County and this great nation,” Everett said.
Dr. Jimmy Jenkins, president of Livingstone College, referenced the school’s partnership with the city’s recent launch of KIVA, a national loan program that uses a local crowdfunding approach to grant women and minorities zero-interest microloans in an effort to kickstart their businesses.
Jenkins also said an entrepreneurship concentration has been added to available courses at Livingstone. Some students have since begun pursuing their business ideas.
Brian Jordan, First Horizons president and a Salisbury native, said at least 500 hours of resources and skills have been dedicated for this program.
Rod Crider, CEO of Rowan Economic Development Commission, praised the program and partnership with ultimately providing a faster economic recovery from the pandemic. He said the county continues to see increased business development, citing successful projects such as the Chewy fulfillment center and the expansion of Imperial Supplies. And with that comes an increase in the demand for small business services.
Crider called the city’s technology infrastructure, the Minority Business Council, Livingstone College and the KIVA program “all the right ingredients” to grow Black businesses in Salisbury.
Additionally, the commission is currently creating an app that will track how efforts are affecting the local economy. Crider said he wants to include statistics from Operation HOPE to ensure local leaders “are doing their part in building small business development.”
Gemale Black, president of the local NAACP, is another partner with the city for the initiative. Black said this goal aligns with NAACP’s mission of economic equality, and he’s proud to be a representative for the first chapter to join such a coalition.