Minority business development receives a boost


The city of Grand Rapids’ Economic Development Corporation recently approved two agreements to help boost minority business development in the greater Grand Rapids area.

The organization approved $50,000 to support Local First’s Good for Grand Rapids campaign. Local First launched the campaign in 2017, and this year’s contribution is double the amount the EDC provided last year.

The new funds will be used to encourage companies to create higher quality and equitable jobs — particularly in underserved communities — and creating more inclusive and diverse workforces.

To achieve these goals, Good for Grand Rapids offers a free quick impact assessment for any-size businesses to take.

“That assessment we ask businesses to take includes really important measures around diversity and inclusiveness,” Local First President Elissa Hillary said.” Do they have minority or female candidates that are in leadership? Do they have a staff that represents the demographics in the community?”

Hillary said businesses also are offered educational programming to help them improve in these areas. Last year, Local First had 80 businesses take the assessment and over 200 participated in the educational services.

“This is open to any business in the community,” Hillary said. “You don’t have to be locally owned, you just have to care about improving your impact in Grand Rapids.”

Hillary added the city of Grand Rapids also has committed to take part in the program.

Local First’s Good for Grand Rapids program offers resources and best practices for sustainability and general social improvement for businesses.

The EDC also continued its $80,000 contract with Grand Rapids Area Black Businesses. The contract helps fund the GRABB 5 Business Accelerator program started in 2016.

The program aims to improve the success rate of black-owned small businesses as they transition from the startup to the growth phase. It is a six-month program done in collaboration with the city and Start Garden, whereby five businesses are selected for a six-month process.

Since the beginning of GRABB 5, the organization has helped accelerate 15 businesses, and work with these businesses continued beyond the six-month period originally designated.

The EDC funding will underwrite the program for one year as GRABB continues to provide services to the 15 businesses, which include facilitating access to funding, expertise and other resources.

According to GRABB, businesses eligible for the accelerator program will be selected based on the following criteria:

  • They have been working with GRABB.

  • They are operating and have customers.

  • They have proven value to customers and validated opportunities to expand.

  • There is evidence they can be accelerating much faster than they currently are.

“As we’ve seen in the past, the EDC’s support of Local First and GRABB has produced many success stories in the community,” said Kara Wood, the city’s managing director of economic development services.

Wood said, while these initiatives are not tied to Downtown Development Authority’s efforts to boost minority business growth, they do complement one another indirectly.

According to the DDA’s fiscal year 2019 budget narrative, $150,000 has been allocated for the development of women and minority businesses in the downtown core. Most recently, the Business Journal covered the launch of a retail innovation effort.

The first minority business to take part in this effort was Tamales Mary, which launched its first downtown food cart pilot in collaboration with Walker-based Move Systems Inc. The six-month pilot program launched earlier in July.

Wood said while DDA efforts are focused exclusively on minority business development in the downtown core, GRABB and Good for Grand Rapids’ efforts spread to the greater Grand Rapids area. Minority businesses located downtown could receive support from all initiatives if they meet their respective criteria.

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