Posts by Author: Deonna Anderson

Fresno Doesn’t Have to Look Far for Health, Wealth Building

(Credit: Food Commons Fresno)

Picture this: A mother tells her daughter to run down to the neighborhood grocery store to pick up some fresh produce for dinner. The family has an ownership stake in the market, where they can buy fruit and vegetables sourced from a nearby farm and freshly baked bread from a local bakery, both of which are in the grocery store’s “network.” On her way home with her purchases, the girl sees a truck from the store on its way to deliver food to people’s homes.

This is the vision of the Food Commons initiative, which now has a prototype in Fresno, California. The test includes a farm, a community supported agriculture-style subscription service, a wholesale business, and a commissary kitchen available to food truck owners and other food-related entrepreneurs in the city.

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A not-for-profit trust owns the for-profit business corporation. A financing arm, similar to a community development financial institution (CDFI), is in the works.

Fresno is an ideal city for testing the model. Located in California’s Central Valley, it’s in one of the nation’s primary agriculture producing regions. But the United States Department of Agriculture identifies nearly 100 census tracts in Fresno County as low-income food deserts. Much of the produce grown there is exported.

“There’s communities and things that have been left behind in how agriculture has evolved and how our food system has evolved, and we’re trying to go back to those neighborhoods that were left behind and find a way where they can prosper as well,” says Kiel Schmidt, operations and wholesale manager at Food Commons Fresno.

“Often farm labor is called unskilled labor but if you see the work that has to be done and actually experience that work, it’s highly skilled work,” Schmidt says. “But those jobs aren’t attached to high-earning wages and they don’t have retirement benefits, things like that.”

The Commons is aiming to build local wealth. Currently, workers at Food Commons Fresno make above California’s minimum wage of $10.50 per hour, with farm laborers starting at $12 per hour and packers at $11.

(Credit: Food Commons Fresno)

The venture is in startup mode right now but as it grows, there’s a plan to raise wages, Schmidt says. They also intend to implement an employee stock ownership program (ESOP) that would allow worker-owners to build equity in the business, and hold a direct public offer so that anyone in California can buy a share in the Food Commons.

“What we’re calling ourselves in many ways is like the Green Bay Packers of food,” says Jamie Harvie, Food Commons’ coordinating director at the national level. “It’s the only football team in the U.S. where the community has bought shares in this, so it’s why the Green Bay Packers is never really going to go up and leave Green Bay and why these fans are so crazily invested in their team.”

Additionally, the Commons has set up its governance, bylaws and articles of incorporation so that it would be hard to sell.

“We wanted to try to do the best we can to insure that if this concept is successful, that in 20 years or 30 years or 100 years, it would be very, very difficult for any one person or group to say, ‘man, the Food Commons is really successful. We’re going to sell it to some investor who doesn’t live in this community,’” says Warren King, development director of the Food Commons and president of the organization’s Community Corporation Board in Fresno. “We have plenty of evidence that that kind of structure is what’s hurt our communities. What created disinvestment in our communities.”

For Food Commons, relationships and word of mouth have been important, Schmidt says.

To run its successful CSA program, Food Commons Fresno works with about 10 farms year round and up to 40 others on a seasonal or one-time basis. Food Commons also works with suppliers to add non-produce products like coffee beans, olive oil, bread and chocolate to boxes. It also purchases goods like fruit jams and tomato sauces from the food production program at California State University, Fresno.

Food Commons Fresno supplies food for some anchor institutions, including the University of California, Merced, and Community Regional Medical Center, too, as well as some local restaurants and nonprofits.

“I think what we’re trying to convey is there are alternative ways to do this and we can do that so that community can fully fund and create a fully functional local food system,” says Harvie. “We want to explore and work with others who are interested in thinking holistically and thinking about place.”

 

Ferguson Baker Goes From Two Hand Mixers to Supplying Starbucks

Natalie DuBose, owner of Natalie’s Cakes & More (Credit: Starbucks)

Natalie DuBose, owner of Natalie’s Cakes and More in Ferguson, Missouri, was working out of a 700-square-foot kitchen with one oven, two hand mixers and a 6-foot foldable table when Starbucks came knocking in 2015.

That year, she began supplying a Ferguson outlet of the coffee chain giant with her baked goods. Now, DuBose supplies over 30 Starbucks stores with her signature caramel cake, which is also in several universities, seven grocery stores and eight gas stations in the St. Louis region. She’s doubled her kitchen space and added two ovens — and no longer uses hand mixers.

The first Ferguson Starbucks where DuBose’s cakes were sold is what the company calls an “opportunity store” — which it conceived to create local jobs, partner with minority-owned contractors and suppliers, and offer an in-store job skills training program. For the latter, Starbucks partners with a local nonprofit to train young people ages 16 to 24 who are not working or in school (often referred to as “disconnected youth”).

The first opportunity store opened in Jamaica, Queens, in 2015, and the model’s also in Phoenix; Englewood in Chicago; Baltimore; Long Beach, California; and White Center, near Seattle. In spring 2018, Starbucks will open one in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn.

“I’m excited to welcome Starbucks’ new store to Bed-Stuy,” Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams said in a statement about the plans. “This innovative concept will bring jobs, mentorship and training opportunities for our neighborhood’s young people. This store will brew the next generation of leaders in Bed-Stuy and ensure that area youth will have a venue to access resources, meet new people, and get the skills they need to enter the job market, all while enjoying a cup of coffee.”

According to Starbucks, through the opportunity store model, the company has used 19 minority-owned general construction suppliers and nine minority-owned general contractors, 43 percent of which have been women-owned businesses.

In New York City, Starbucks partnered with YMCA’s Y Roads Centers (created to reach disconnected youth) and Queens Community House to provide in-store training for youth. QCH has had a relationship with Starbucks for about a decade, says Dennis Redmond, chief strategy officer. The partnership is an extension of the Queens Connect Young Adult Food Sector Initiative, a collaborative employment program that trains and prepares youth for careers in food service and manufacturing.

“For over 40 years, we have been working to strengthen neighborhoods and bring special opportunities to individuals within the borough,” Ben Thomases, executive director at Queens Community House, said in a statement about the Jamaica, Queens, partnership. “This partnership with Starbucks allows us to help even more young people to develop their skills, launch their careers, and become meaningful contributors to their community.”

The partnership has led two Queens youth to jobs at Starbucks, says Redmond. Others have gone on to continue training with QCH and use its job placement assistance. In the coming year, the partnership aims to train 100 more youth.

A Starbucks opportunity store in White Center, near Seattle (Credit: Starbucks)

In addition to the forthcoming Bed-Stuy store, Starbucks plans to take the model to Miami Gardens, Trenton, Birmingham and Dallas over the next year. By the end of 2018, there will be 15 opportunity stores total.

Rodney Hines, director of social impact for U.S. operations at Starbucks, explains that the company developed an internal “suitability index” to identify the top 50 cities across the U.S. that could be good options for the model. It considers about seven criteria including enterprise zones, density size, unemployment rates, ethnic diversity and Starbucks’ presence in markets.

If a community is already committed to economic development that preserves the well-being of families in the various neighborhoods that’s a plus too.

“The joy of my work is to really thoughtfully think through and consider how do we actually do this in a way that is respectful, responsive to the community, to leaders and to others there locally and also responsible for our share to our shareholders,” Hines says. “But doing it in partnership with the local community.”

In addition to new jobs, training and partnerships with MWBEs (minority- and women-owned business enterprises), each store has a room available for local groups to host meetings and events.

Starbucks estimates that the opportunity stores have led to $59.7 million in indirect economic development created from store construction, $8.5 million average for indirect economic development per community, and created over 1,100 jobs indirectly.

Hines acknowledges there are challenges that come with the opportunity stores. For example, some youth trainees are dealing with homelessness and drug addiction.

“What we’ve had to learn quickly was how do we support our store managers so that they can better support those young people, but then how do we embrace the partnerships that we have with the local nonprofits and also the human resources that we have available here through the company,” Hines says. “How do we harness all of that so that we’re truly wrapping ourselves around the young people and the store managers who need that support too, with developing these young people.”

For small suppliers, Starbucks’ global reach can be overwhelming too, Hines says. He notes that he and his team have been thinking through how to continue to support the small businesses, help them grow and ensure that they have the right systems in place to be a great business partner with Starbucks, as well as other restaurants and grocery stores.

DuBose, however, has embraced the growth. When she first started as a Starbucks partner, she employed two people. That number has increased to 12 regular employees, a number that swells to 30 during the summer when she partners with a local organization on a youth entrepreneurship training program.

“I just thought I was going to be a local bakery,” says DuBose, who adds that her company will begin supplying 10 additional stores next month.

Natalie DuBose, owner of Natalie’s Cakes and More in Ferguson, Missouri, was working out of a 700-square-foot kitchen with one oven, two hand mixers and a 6-foot foldable table when Starbucks came knocking in 2015.

That year, she began supplying a Ferguson outlet of the coffee chain giant with her baked goods. Now, DuBose supplies over 30 Starbucks stores with her signature caramel cake, which is also in several universities, seven grocery stores and eight gas stations in the St. Louis region. She’s doubled her kitchen space and added two ovens — and no longer uses hand mixers.

The first Ferguson Starbucks where DuBose’s cakes were sold is what the company calls an “opportunity store” — which it conceived to create local jobs, partner with minority-owned contractors and suppliers, and offer an in-store job skills training program. For the latter, Starbucks partners with a local nonprofit to train young people ages 16 to 24 who are not working or in school (often referred to as “disconnected youth”).

The first opportunity store opened in Jamaica, Queens, in 2015, and the model’s also in Phoenix; Englewood in Chicago; Baltimore; Long Beach, California; and Seattle’s White Center. In spring 2018, Starbucks will open one in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn.

“I’m excited to welcome Starbucks’ new store to Bed-Stuy,” Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams said in a statement about the plans. “This innovative concept will bring jobs, mentorship and training opportunities for our neighborhood’s young people. This store will brew the next generation of leaders in Bed-Stuy and ensure that area youth will have a venue to access resources, meet new people, and get the skills they need to enter the job market, all while enjoying a cup of coffee.”

According to Starbucks, through the opportunity store model, the company has used 19 minority-owned general construction suppliers and nine minority-owned general contractors, 43 percent of which have been women-owned businesses.

In New York City, Starbucks partnered with YMCA’s Y Roads Centers (created to reach disconnected youth) and Queens Community House to provide in-store training for youth. QCH has had a relationship with Starbucks for about a decade, says Dennis Redmond, chief strategy officer. The partnership is an extension of the Queens Connect Young Adult Food Sector Initiative, a collaborative employment program that trains and prepares youth for careers in food service and manufacturing.

“For over 40 years, we have been working to strengthen neighborhoods and bring special opportunities to individuals within the borough,” Ben Thomases, executive director at Queens Community House, said in a statement about the Jamaica, Queens, partnership. “This partnership with Starbucks allows us to help even more young people to develop their skills, launch their careers, and become meaningful contributors to their community.”

The partnership has led two Queens youth to jobs at Starbucks, says Redmond. Others have gone on to continue training with QCH and use its job placement assistance. In the coming year, the partnership aims to train 100 more youth.

In addition to the forthcoming Bed-Stuy store, Starbucks plans to take the model to Miami Gardens, Trenton, Birmingham and Dallas over the next year. By the end of 2018, there will be 15 opportunity stores total.

Rodney Hines, director of social impact for U.S. operations at Starbucks, explains that the company developed an internal “suitability index” to identify the top 50 cities across the U.S. that could be good options for the model. It considers about seven criteria including enterprise zones, density size, unemployment rates, ethnic diversity and Starbucks’ presence in markets.

If a community is already committed to economic development that preserves the well-being of families in the various neighborhoods that’s a plus too.

“The joy of my work is to really thoughtfully think through and consider how do we actually do this in a way that is respectful, responsive to the community, to leaders and to others there locally and also responsible for our share to our shareholders,” Hines says. “But doing it in partnership with the local community.”

In addition to new jobs, training and partnerships with MWBEs (minority- and women-owned business enterprises), each store has a room available for local groups to host meetings and events.

Starbucks estimates that the opportunity stores have led to $59.7 million in indirect economic development created from store construction, $8.5 million average for indirect economic development per community, and created over 1,100 jobs indirectly.

Hines acknowledges there are challenges that come with the opportunity stores. For example, some youth trainees are dealing with homelessness and drug addiction.

“What we’ve had to learn quickly was how do we support our store managers so that they can better support those young people, but then how do we embrace the partnerships that we have with the local nonprofits and also the human resources that we have available here through the company,” Hines says. “How do we harness all of that so that we’re truly wrapping ourselves around the young people and the store managers who need that support too, with developing these young people.”

For small suppliers, Starbucks’ global reach can be overwhelming too, Hines says. He notes that he and his team have been thinking through how to continue to support the small businesses, help them grow and ensure that they have the right systems in place to be a great business partner with Starbucks, as well as other restaurants and grocery stores.

DuBose, however, has embraced the growth. When she first started as a Starbucks partner, she employed two people. That number has increased to 12 regular employees, a number that swells to 30 during the summer when she partners with a local organization on a youth entrepreneurship training program.

“I just thought I was going to be a local bakery,” says DuBose, who adds that her company will begin supplying 10 additional stores next month.

 

Calif. Community College Connects Residents to Industries With Job Openings

Cargo trucks at the Port of Long Beach (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

In his late 40s, Stephan Garcia decided he wanted to change his life. “It gets to a point where a person realizes, ‘Hey, you’re either going to perish out here on these streets, going through those problems, or you’re going to have to make a change in your life,’” the U.S. military veteran, now 55, says. “And I decided to look in areas where I can earn a living for myself.”

His starting point — a job — eventually led him to Long Beach City College, a community college with a workforce development department that’s focused on connecting unemployed residents and well-paying jobs and local industry demands.

Garcia, who had been incarcerated and also once had a drug problem, lived in an apartment in Inglewood, California, thanks to U.S. Vets. The nonprofit provides housing and employment assistance, among other services, to veterans. At a jobs seminar, Garcia learned about the state of California’s labor market information website. In his research, he found that trucking was an industry that needed workers.

Over the last 15 years, the trucking industry has had a driver shortage, according to a 2015 analysis by American Trucking Associations. The study notes that the shortage is primarily in the for-hire truckload sector, which involves dock-to-dock transportation of full loads. Still, there is a widespread need for drivers.

Garcia enrolled at a private trucking school, but after finishing his training, he had a hard time landing a job. He applied and got calls for interviews that took him to Arizona, Texas and Riverside, California. Those trips didn’t result in job offers because of his criminal record. (The trucking industry recently has begun to open up more to hiring formerly incarcerated people, in an effort to combat the driver shortage.)

Then in late 2016, Garcia learned about a Long Beach City College offering that might help him finally land a job: a 14-week commercial truck driving program that focuses on drayage, or transporting goods short distances (for example, from a ship to a warehouse). Students get an introduction to commercial trucking and learn about everything from owner-operator entrepreneurship and clean truck operator maintenance to hazardous materials certification and commercial driver training and licensing. The program doesn’t cover wage theft or similar challenges of being a contract driver in the Los Angeles and Long Beach port systems, but a fair wage advocacy group launched a national hotline where drivers can report wage theft violations in 2016. (It doesn’t get into the future of driverless vehicles either. Melissa Infusino, LBCC director of workforce development, says that industry people she’s spoken with about this technological advancement don’t believe it will affect drayage trucking in the near future.)

Most importantly, for Garcia, LBCC offers the program in partnership with the state of California and the Harbor Trucking Association, a Long Beach-headquartered coalition of carriers.

“We’re also then bringing in industry into the classroom to speak to them about their companies, taking them on tours of the industry, and then helping to make the connection through job fairs so that they can actually get hired as a driver,” says Infusino.

Garcia completed the LBCC program in May and has been working as a driver since two days before his graduation. He says that his confidence improved in the LBCC program compared to his previous trucking school experience.

“If a company can get a Long Beach City College graduate, they’ve definitely scored,” Garcia says. “I’ve heard of only one other program that was more comprehensive and that was a six-month program.”

LBCC’s 24th commercial driving class is currently in session and will graduate in October. Over 180 people have completed the program, including 19 women and 35 veterans. Of those, 63.9 percent have been placed in jobs. The median hourly wage for heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers in California is $19.87, or $41,340 annually, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Drivers who operate in ports are specialists and can earn up to $57,528 annually, according to 2014 data from the California EDD Labor Market Information Division.

“We screen folks with industry. We look at their driver history. They have to provide us with a drug screen. We interview them,” says Infusino. “We look for people that are interested in a career as opposed to a job or just jumping from training to training.” (According to LBCC, 19 percent of its students enroll with the goal of gaining vocational skills.)

Scott Horn, 49, was in one of the first cohorts, in early 2014. Horn, who worked as a lumper, a worker who unloads and loads trucks, before enrolling, says the LBCC program changed his life.

“My teacher always told me in school, I would never get paid to stare out a window. And I’m staring out my windshield all day long,” he says. “And I’m getting paid.”

When Horn was in the program, it was free to students, with the help of a $440,000 grant from the California Community College Chancellor’s Office and $450,000 from the trucking industry, in a two-year pilot phase. In 2013, the college also received a grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration geared toward training veterans to become truck drivers.

The grant funding will run out in February 2018. Starting this calendar year, students have had to pay a fee, which increased from $500 in January to $1,500 for the most recent cohort.

“If we do continue down this path, the cost would probably go up to about $4,500 a student,” Infusino says. “So that’s the transition that we’re making over the next year, continuing into 2018.”

Garcia says he wouldn’t have been able to pay for the program himself if it cost $4,500, without financial assistance from an organization like U.S. Vets.

Making the program accessible is a priority, Infusino says, and LBCC is hoping to create a hybrid student-partner pay model to make the program sustainable without reliance on grants. The college’s workforce development department is going through the process of getting the CDL program on an authorized training provider list in the state of California, which would allow a public agency like the Pacific Gateway Workforce Investment Network to use its funds to cover program costs for people who are eligible for their services.

LBCC is building on the initial success of the commercial driving program by looking for other ways to train Southern California residents for well-paying jobs. The college has two other training programs that started recently and are free for participants: a pre-apprenticeship construction program and another in heavy duty preventive maintenance and alternative fuels.

When Ruth Long, 55, learned about the construction program, which prepares students for apprenticeships with unions, she says she was looking for a better job. She worked as a waitress and bartender, and didn’t make enough money to make ends meet. And she didn’t have healthcare.

In California, trades from carpenter to electrician have apprenticeships with multiyear training programs leading to union membership and employment. According to LBCC, graduates of these two new programs can expect to earn $20 to $25 an hour.

LBCC created its pre-apprenticeship program in response to demand for construction workers in Los Angeles and Orange counties. These trades, says Infusino, “have typically not been diverse and really haven’t reached people who don’t have a friend or family member who are already in a union. The pre-apprenticeship program is really a way to reach into the community, to disadvantaged communities, to nontraditional folks to really get them ready and connected directly with these opportunities.” It is also a way to help contractors meet local hire mandates.

About three weeks after completing the pre-apprenticeship program, Long landed a spot in the apprenticeship program with Painters Local 1036. She says the program was time well spent. “They were preparing us to shine a little shinier than the other people,” she says.

 

Fund Wants to Show North Omaha Entrepreneurs “Nebraska Nice”

Downtown Omaha (Photo by Shannon Ramos)

When Dayana Lopez and her family launched Maria Bonita with one food truck in Omaha, Nebraska, in 2009, they weren’t ready for the challenges they would face as business owners.

“It’s a bit harder than anyone would expect,” Lopez says, noting that she knew about some resources for businesses back then. “You come to find out that it’s just one aspect.”

Since then, the Lopez family has expanded their Mexican cuisine offerings with a brick-and-mortar restaurant, another food truck, and catering. They’ve employed about a dozen full- and part-time employees over the years.

When they first decided to invest in a food truck, Lopez says, they were overwhelmed by the permits they needed to obtain and the hoops they had to jump through. At that time, the city of Omaha didn’t have established rules for food trucks.

“They say ‘Nebraska Nice’ but it’s Nebraska hard,” she says.

However, as their business has expanded, they’ve found an easier path to capital, thanks in part to the Nebraska Enterprise Fund, a community development financial institution (CDFI) based in nearby Oakland, Nebraska. CDFIs focus on lending in underinvested communities, and NEF helped Maria Bonita with financing for the second food truck. (The family also took out loans from First National Bank.)

“It has been a critical funding stream for Maria Bonita,” Lopez says, citing NEF’s approachable application process.

Maria Bonita is just one Omaha small business that NEF has helped. For two years in a row, during the 2017 and 2016 fiscal years, the CDFI has made over 100 loans, totaling over $3 million each year, according to Jim Reiff, executive director.

Small business owners, especially those who are new to entrepreneurship, face several challenges when it comes to funding and banking.

“And a lot of people have poor credit reports,” Reiff says, noting that sometimes a person’s bad credit is not based on what they did. “Sometimes … nobody’s ever taught them about credit before, so how are you going to know how to take care of your credit report, if you’ve never been taught about it? It’s actually, ironically, because of a thing they didn’t do.”

Another challenge Reiff mentions is lack of experience, but that isn’t always straightforward.

Reiff recalls working with a pair of clients who were running a security company. The business partners had over 30 years of military and police department experience but the bank said that wasn’t enough.

That’s where NEF (and CDFIs around the U.S.) comes in. In June, NEF received almost $700,000 in loan and grant money from Wells Fargo, to support small businesses.

“We’re going to use this money for North Omaha, which is a traditionally underserved part of the city of Omaha,” Reiff says. North Omaha has historically been home to a large black population.

“The banks, still, are having a hard time getting money into the community, whereas someone like us can kind of get money going in businesses that they maybe can’t get,” Reiff says. “Hopefully, in five years they will be able to … we’re not here to compete with the bank, we’re here to augment what the bank can do.”

NEF also offers business and financial planning, mentorship and training, including a five-session program that assists clients with acceleration.

“At some point, you have to be able to sell more so our focus is on that,” Reiff says, noting that there are only so many costs businesses can cut.

NEF doesn’t have endless resources, so if a business needs help that the organization doesn’t provide, it will refer the owner to a collaborator like the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce, Small Business Association or Catholic Charities.

“We know we’re not perfect at everything and if somebody can do it better, it’s silly for us to do it,” Reiff says. “And it’s super silly to duplicate services.”

In July, Reiff told the Omaha World-Herald that the ideal outcome for NEF clients is to eventually grow enough that they show up on banks’ radars.

“We’d like them to be able to walk into a bank and the bank to take them serious for what they are. And that’s being a viable business so if they need funding, we’d prefer that the banks cover the funding,” Reiff says. “What they can do for a business is three steps higher than what we can do for a business.”

 

Data for Black Lives Wants to Connect Scientists and Activists

When Yeshimabeit Milner was a teenager, growing up in Miami, she learned what injustice looks like. After an administrator put a high school student in a headlock, and police officers responded to other students during a protest by hitting them with batons and slamming them to the ground, she and her peers began to organize. They surveyed 600 students about their experiences with suspensions, arrests and police brutality and turned their findings into a comic book.

Milner has been an organizer ever since. After attending Brown University, she returned to Miami to work for the Power U Center, a grassroots organization fighting for liberation of all people. Most recently, she served as the movement building campaign manager at Color of Change. She’s a board member for the Highlander Research and Education Center, a nonprofit organization that supports activists through training and education.

“All of those experiences led up to Data for Black Lives,” she says, describing the organization she founded with Lucas Mason-Brown, a mathematician at MIT, in August 2016. “Data for Black Lives seeks to mobilize scientists around racial justice issues by really building a bridge between data scientists, software engineers, mathematicians, et cetera, and people working in and on the front lines of black communities.

Milner wants to use data to identify issues to tackle in the black community. She hopes to work with the growing number of chief data officers in cities across the United States too, to figure out how to better use data to address issues ranging from displacement to economic opportunity.

“Our fake Data for Black Lives tagline is ‘Men lie. Women lie. Numbers don’t.’ Like Jay-Z says,” Milner explains. “People can lie but the data speaks for itself and the numbers tell a story.”

In November, D4BL will convene community members, organizers, policymakers and data scientists at MIT’s Media Lab to discuss racial inequities and segregation in Boston. Milner and Mason-Brown (who are receiving some support as 2017 Echoing Green fellows) hope the three-day conference will become an annual event.

For D4BL, data science is an interdisciplinary, collaborative process that uses tools like visualization and mapping, as well as artificial intelligence and machine learning, to bring meaning and solutions to impact people’s lives.

“There has historically been a gap and major silos between activists and scientific communities and that’s because of a really politically, racially charged and often violent history,” Milner says. “I think, not only do we have an opportunity to, but it is a necessity that, we flip the script on that and we change that.”

At the conference, D4BL will release a platform outlining ways data and technology can improve the lives of black people. Data is increasingly being held up as a way for city officials to make better decisions, and for organizers to tell their stories. So-called “smart cities” are deploying technology in the name of everything from gathering information about commuters to accessibility. D4BL is focusing on racial justice.

For example, when it comes to economic justice, Milner’s looking at tapping into Bitcoin and Blockchain, so that cryptocurrency wealth is circulated in black communities. As for ways numbers and algorithms can have a negative impact, Milner points to how credit scores and predictive policing can perpetuate injustice.

Another issue Milner says D4BL wants to tackle: preparing for automation to take away retail and truck driving jobs by creating and training for other work opportunities. Blair Evans, director of Incite Focus, a fabrication lab in Detroit, will be at the November conference. Entrepreneurs launch businesses in such spaces, where there’s technology like 3D printers, and training and mentorship — but people of color are often not using these spaces. Evans has worked to change that.

“You can already guess the kind of demographic makeup of people of tech shops, white folks,” Milner says. “But what Blair Evans is doing is making this available for folks in Detroit.”

Milner says they plan to build on the work that other organizations and networks — like the Movement for Black Lives and Lawyers for Black Lives — have already done. Last year, Movement for Black Lives released a platform that includes strategies for evening the economic playing field in the U.S. And, as data scientist Samuel Sinyangwe wrote in an op-ed for Next City in 2015, a quantitative approach has benefited the movement. Writing about the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Sinyangwe said, “Armed with cell phones, digital networks and now crowdsourced data, we have overcome those who claimed that Mike Brown was an isolated incident and forced policymakers to take action.”

As for Boston being the location — and subject of — the first D4BL conference, Milner says they wanted to zero in on one city so that they could make the work they do relevant to the local community, whether they’re organizers, service providers or teachers.

“Boston is the home of MIT and Harvard and Boston University and all their amazing research institutions and so much innovation on so many levels, but it’s also what many people call ‘up south,’” Milner says. “Because it’s so racist, so segregated. But it’s definitely become national because the implications of these conversations, as we’re realizing, are translatable all over the country. That’s just the way segregation and institutional racism are set up, right?”

Using census data, reports have found that the Boston metro area is among the most racially segregated in the country. Housing segregation has a long history in the city. While the city is diverse, systemic racism has pushed people of color and those with lower incomes to the margins. A 2017 report from the Metropolitan Area Planning Council found that regardless of income, people of color lived in less affluent neighborhoods than white people with similar incomes. When two households made $78,000, the white household was more likely to live in neighborhoods where the median household income was $72,000 while black household lived where the median household income was $51,000. And working families have been pushed out because they can’t afford housing.

The city of Boston is working on these disparities. Mayor Marty Walsh appointed a chief resilience officer in 2015 whose goal is to look at the role of racism and income inequality in disaster recovery. Milner also wants to build on that.

“Whenever we’re going to start a campaign or any kind of project, we have to go to the community first,” Milner says. “My goal is that we leave the conference with a much more precise understanding of what is needed to respond at this moment.”

 

Data for Black Lives Wants to Connect Scientists and Activists

When Yeshimabeit Milner was a teenager, growing up in Miami, she learned what injustice looks like. After an administrator put a high school student in a headlock, and police officers responded to other students during a protest by hitting them with batons and slamming them to the ground, she and her peers began to organize. They surveyed 600 students about their experiences with suspensions, arrests and police brutality and turned their findings into a comic book.

Milner has been an organizer ever since. After attending Brown University, she returned to Miami to work for the Power U Center, a grassroots organization fighting for liberation of all people. Most recently, she served as the movement building campaign manager at Color of Change. She’s a board member for the Highlander Research and Education Center, a nonprofit organization that supports activists through training and education.

“All of those experiences led up to Data for Black Lives,” she says, describing the organization she founded with Lucas Mason-Brown, a mathematician at MIT, in August 2016. “Data for Black Lives seeks to mobilize scientists around racial justice issues by really building a bridge between data scientists, software engineers, mathematicians, et cetera, and people working in and on the front lines of black communities.

Milner wants to use data to identify issues to tackle in the black community. She hopes to work with the growing number of chief data officers in cities across the United States too, to figure out how to better use data to address issues ranging from displacement to economic opportunity.

“Our fake Data for Black Lives tagline is ‘Men lie. Women lie. Numbers don’t.’ Like Jay-Z says,” Milner explains. “People can lie but the data speaks for itself and the numbers tell a story.”

In November, D4BL will convene community members, organizers, policymakers and data scientists at MIT’s Media Lab to discuss racial inequities and segregation in Boston. Milner and Mason-Brown (who are receiving some support as 2017 Echoing Green fellows) hope the three-day conference will become an annual event.

For D4BL, data science is an interdisciplinary, collaborative process that uses tools like visualization and mapping, as well as artificial intelligence and machine learning, to bring meaning and solutions to impact people’s lives.

“There has historically been a gap and major silos between activists and scientific communities and that’s because of a really politically, racially charged and often violent history,” Milner says. “I think, not only do we have an opportunity to, but it is a necessity that, we flip the script on that and we change that.”

At the conference, D4BL will release a platform outlining ways data and technology can improve the lives of black people. Data is increasingly being held up as a way for city officials to make better decisions, and for organizers to tell their stories. So-called “smart cities” are deploying technology in the name of everything from gathering information about commuters to accessibility. D4BL is focusing on racial justice.

For example, when it comes to economic justice, Milner’s looking at tapping into Bitcoin and Blockchain, so that cryptocurrency wealth is circulated in black communities. As for ways numbers and algorithms can have a negative impact, Milner points to how credit scores and predictive policing can perpetuate injustice.

Another issue Milner says D4BL wants to tackle: preparing for automation to take away retail and truck driving jobs by creating and training for other work opportunities. Blair Evans, director of Incite Focus, a fabrication lab in Detroit, will be at the November conference. Entrepreneurs launch businesses in such spaces, where there’s technology like 3D printers, and training and mentorship — but people of color are often not using these spaces. Evans has worked to change that.

“You can already guess the kind of demographic makeup of people of tech shops, white folks,” Milner says. “But what Blair Evans is doing is making this available for folks in Detroit.”

Milner says they plan to build on the work that other organizations and networks — like the Movement for Black Lives and Lawyers for Black Lives — have already done. Last year, Movement for Black Lives released a platform that includes strategies for evening the economic playing field in the U.S. And, as data scientist Samuel Sinyangwe wrote in an op-ed for Next City in 2015, a quantitative approach has benefited the movement. Writing about the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Sinyangwe said, “Armed with cell phones, digital networks and now crowdsourced data, we have overcome those who claimed that Mike Brown was an isolated incident and forced policymakers to take action.”

As for Boston being the location — and subject of — the first D4BL conference, Milner says they wanted to zero in on one city so that they could make the work they do relevant to the local community, whether they’re organizers, service providers or teachers.

“Boston is the home of MIT and Harvard and Boston University and all their amazing research institutions and so much innovation on so many levels, but it’s also what many people call ‘up south,’” Milner says. “Because it’s so racist, so segregated. But it’s definitely become national because the implications of these conversations, as we’re realizing, are translatable all over the country. That’s just the way segregation and institutional racism are set up, right?”

Using census data, reports have found that the Boston metro area is among the most racially segregated in the country. Housing segregation has a long history in the city. While the city is diverse, systemic racism has pushed people of color and those with lower incomes to the margins. A 2017 report from the Metropolitan Area Planning Council found that regardless of income, people of color lived in less affluent neighborhoods than white people with similar incomes. When two households made $78,000, the white household was more likely to live in neighborhoods where the median household income was $72,000 while black household lived where the median household income was $51,000. And working families have been pushed out because they can’t afford housing.

The city of Boston is working on these disparities. Mayor Marty Walsh appointed a chief resilience officer in 2015 whose goal is to look at the role of racism and income inequality in disaster recovery. Milner also wants to build on that.

“Whenever we’re going to start a campaign or any kind of project, we have to go to the community first,” Milner says. “My goal is that we leave the conference with a much more precise understanding of what is needed to respond at this moment.”

 

Arts Education for All Runs Into Rising Brooklyn Rents

(Credit: AbunDance Academy of the Arts)

In 2014, at the intersection of Rogers and Lefferts avenues in Brooklyn, the AbunDance Academy of the Arts started offering classes in everything from dance and musical performance to martial arts and wellness.

Karisma Jay, artistic director and founder, wanted to give the residents of Prospect Lefferts Gardens neighborhood long-term access to arts education in a time when it isn’t always available elsewhere, like in schools. She knows what it’s like to not have that access. For one term in college, she decided to focus on math and science instead of her passion for art. That period was tough for her because she didn’t have a creative outlet.

“So, thereafter I added all the arts classes back in and my GPA skyrocketed,” Jay says. “And I see how art changes lives, really and truly, because it changed mine.”

In April, however, Jay’s vision faced a setback. With the rent set to double on their space, Jay says, they couldn’t afford to renew their lease. AbunDance closed. (As of 2014, the median household income in the South Crown Heights/Lefferts Gardens neighborhood was $41,867, according to the NYU Furman Center, and between 2000 and 2014, the percent of low-income residents who were rent-burdened grew by 10 percent to 50.8 percent.)

AbunDance students have been practicing their dance steps and perfecting their singing voices at four different spaces since the shutdown. From national cuts to arts education to rapid gentrification in Prospect Lefferts Gardens and the surrounding area, the three-year-old nonprofit organization faces multiple hurdles to assembling everyone again. But if United for Small Business NYC, a coalition of organizations assembled by the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development, has its way, small businesses like AbunDance will have more security when it comes to setting up shop in neighborhoods across the city. In early June, the group released its platform, calling for tougher policy that would combat commercial displacement, such as tools that would help develop affordable commercial space and a penalty system for landlords who warehouse property.

“Those fines have to be greater than what the developer or whoever owns the space can bear so that they really stop doing it,” says Risa Shoup, executive director of Spaceworks, a nonprofit cultural community development organization that works to supply affordable rehearsal and studio space for artists. “This arts academy, other arts organizations, are so important because that’s how people within various communities can elevate their practice and feel empowered to collaborate and share, and if they want to continue to grow and show their practice to more and more people.”

Since October 2016, NYC’s Department of Cultural Affairs has been gathering feedback for CreateNYC, the city’s first cultural plan. Shoup has consulted on the plan, which will be available later this month. Those surveyed have expressed a desire for greater diversity in arts and culture leadership, better access to information about programs, and equitable distribution of programming throughout the boroughs.

“I’d say especially within Brooklyn, part of why I think all arts organizations in boroughs that are not Manhattan are important is just because for so long, we’ve kind of concentrated our resources for arts and culture, including but not limited to money, to the borough of Manhattan,” Shoup says.

In gentrifying neighborhoods, part of the challenge as Jay well knows, is paying the rent on space.

AbunDance Academy of the Arts in Brooklyn closed in April. (Photo by Deonna Anderson)

“For all of the progress we have made over decades to establish and protect the rights of residential tenants, the rights of commercial tenants are largely limited to what’s in their lease,” Benjamin Dulchin, ANHD’s executive director, said in a statement announcing the platform to combat commercial displacement. “With gentrification and displacement threatening the viability of commercial tenants in neighborhoods across the city, City Hall needs to develop tools to protect small businesses, create affordable space, and regulate bad landlords.”

While City Council enacted legislation last year to prevent commercial tenant harassment, there’s no substantive commercial rent regulation in New York City. Activists have been fighting this battle for years. In 2014, small business advocates pushed for the Small Business Jobs Survival Act, legislation that would provide equity between the commercial tenant and landlord during lease negotiations. It has been stalled in city council since its introduction.

Meanwhile, without official regulation, nonprofits in gentrifying neighborhoods around NYC have to look for money with rising rents in mind.

AbunDance received funds from City Council Member Mathieu Eugene’s office to offer classes to seniors. “One of my huge, huge mottos is that I love to teach the arts, and spread the arts for students from ages 2 to 82,” Jay says. “And I joked around because last year we actually had an 83-year-old, and I was like, ‘Oh, wait a minute,’ so we do classes for ages 2 to 92.”

On a recent Sunday in June, as AbunDance students danced at Kings Theatre, during a portion of the show, which was inspired by the “Sister Act” movies, women dressed like nuns walked down the aisles to collect donations. Jay delivered a call to action to the audience to keep AbunDance alive.

For two months, the organization has also been running a GoFundMe campaign to raise $50,000. They’ve got just under $14,000 so far.

Community members have been showing support in other ways. They have given Jay words of encouragement and spread the word to their networks. People from the neighborhood who never stepped foot into the old studio have donated. Parents have paid for their children’s classes in the disparate locations and given extra at the same time.

“What’s unfortunate is that I have to drive by our previous location every day,” Jay says. “And there is nothing going on.”

 

In New York, a Neighborhood Makes a Pre-Gentrification Plan

(Photo by Deonna Anderson)

Residents, city staffers and elected officials gathered earlier this month in Brownsville, Brooklyn, to celebrate a new neighborhood plan that comes after a year of community engagement involving the New York City Housing and Preservation Department and nearly 500 residents and neighborhood groups.

The plan includes goals to increase affordable housing and improve residents’ health and safety, and envisions Brownsville as an arts hub for New York City.

The blueprint also sets an expectation for community-focused economic development that would mean lower unemployment and a boost for entrepreneurship, and there are at least three retail and jobs initiatives in the works to help.

Brownsville has historically been one of the poorest neighborhoods in New York City. The median household income was $25,041, much less than the citywide $52,737, according to the U.S. Census 2010-2014 American Community Survey. About 36 percent of residents live below the federal poverty line. The unemployment rate in Brownsville was over 15 percent, about 5 percent higher than the city average, according to that ACS.

According to the Brownsville plan, the Brownsville Community Justice Center (BCJC), a youth justice organization, along with Hester Street Collaborative and Made in Brownsville, will explore “potential projects [that] could address placemaking, business attraction and retention, merchant organizing, or other needs identified on the Belmont Avenue corridor.”

BCJC has been focused on the Belmont Avenue commercial corridor since 2014, organizing youth cleanups and a monthly street festival that brings increased foot traffic. The new Brownsville plan brings energy to expanding such efforts.

“We believe that the community already has everything we need to make it better,” says Erica Mateo, director of community-based initiatives at BCJC. “I feel like we’re one of the last frontiers for gentrification. We don’t want our work to be co-opted.”

With community planning comes challenges. As they continue to improve Belmont Avenue, Mateo says they plan “to keep the cultural significance” of Brownsville.

Some of it comes down to communication about changes, Mateo says. For example, people were impressed with the 3 Black Cats, a cafe on Belmont opened by three sisters from Brownsville last summer. But, Mateo says, residents were saying, ‘it’s so nice’ — and weren’t sure if it was for them.

Hester Street Collaborative is looking at data about this particular section of Brownsville to see where people are spending money and inform what types of businesses have the potential thrive on Belmont. The 4-block area currently has some empty storefronts and buildings in need of facade improvements.

“Sometimes looking at data and maps helps you step back and plan more wisely,” Mateo says.

Quardean Lewis-Allen, founder and CEO of Made in Brownsville, another partner in the revitalization effort, has a location on Belmont, and Mateo says that’s been helpful in planning.

“Economic development is also about creating things,” says Genese Morgan, chair of Brooklyn Community Board 16, which represents the Brownsville and Ocean Hill neighborhoods. “We need a reason for people to come into our community. We’ve been going outside of our community for so long.”

The hope is that when people visit Brownsville, they will also spend money there, enabling businesses to survive and thrive. But first, business ventures need to be set up for success.

“The opportunities have to match the economic status of the community. The economic opportunities have to be innovative,” says Morgan, adding that there has to be opportunity for people who cannot afford brick-and-mortar retail businesses.

One solution: finding a space for entrepreneurs without the obligation of a five- or 10-year lease. That’s the idea behind the innovation and entrepreneurship space at the intersection of Glenmore Avenue and Mother Gaston Boulevard, which is also promoted in the Brownsville plan.

The Central Brooklyn Economic Development Corporation (CBEDC) is also helping businesses build capacity. Its Brownsville Gateway incubator trains startups in the community with operating budgets of less than $25,000. They get business training and a chance to pitch to investors. One such outfit: We Run Brownsville, which encourages women living and working in the neighborhood to take ownership of their physical, mental and emotional wellness.

“You can’t avoid [transplants] coming into your neighborhood, but you can do something about how much ownership you have,” La’Shawn Allen-Muhammed, executive director at CBEDC told BK Reader in 2015. “Even if we concentrate on specific areas within the district, I think that’s the way to go.”

With a new Brownsville plan being celebrated, Allen-Muhammed emphasizes that mission today. “We’re really adamant about supporting our local residents and businesses,” she says. “So that once the community changes, they’re still here.”

 

Startup Incubator Helps College Students on Path to Entrepreneurship

(Credit: Zahn Innovation Center)

Some students leave college with a degree and a jobs wish list — and some walk away with a business or an established entrepreneurial track record. Among the latter: many students involved in the City College of New York’s Zahn Innovation Center. The incubator, established in 2013, helps students with startup capital and developing their business ideas. At a May pitch competition, four groups won a total of $150,000 in seed money for their startups.

The incubator has launched over 100 startups, in tech, social impact and hardware.

City College of New York is home to about 16,000 students, 68 percent of whom are low-income. Thirty-two percent of the student body is Hispanic, 22 percent African-American, 22 percent Asian, and 24 percent white.

“Most of our students are the first in their family to go to college. They’re children of immigrants or immigrants themselves, and they’re chasing the American Dream,” Katherine Olives, of the Zahn Innovation Center, writes via email. “The Zahn Innovation Center gives them an opportunity to level their own playing field.”

Recognizing a lack of diversity in the startup world, as well as problems with limited access to capital and mentorship, colleges in cities across the U.S. have added such incubators to the mix of higher education. Some partner with and support a local nonprofit’s efforts. Others partner with city governments, and some, as with Zahn Innovation Center, launch their own on-campus hubs.

The center, according to Olives, is “a way for students to take what they learn in the classroom and apply it to the ‘real world.’ And it gives them a space to seek solutions for the issues they’re most concerned about.”

For example, take four students with a similar interest in addressing the varied challenges that people with illnesses and disabilities have to face. Amanda Bernstein, Ralph Hertz, Sam Tran, and Ankush Thakur, of the S.M.A.R.Tech team, developed an activity tracker that monitors daily therapy tasks for patients with cerebral palsy. They won the largest prize at the May competition, $50,000.

“Winning the prize is the difference between us being well on our way to a sustainable company in 2018 instead of 2020,” Hertz says.

In addition to the pitch competition, Zahn offers a co-working space, mentorship and rapid prototyping facilities, among other resources.

“We have an amazing support network and really great mentors that helped us move this project forward, finding out what exactly our market is, how we fulfill that need, figuring out the logistics for the business, connecting us with outside mentors and partners, providing prototyping facilities that we’ve used,” Thakur says.

Hertz’s mom has Type 1 diabetes, and for him, it’s been a dream to develop technology to assist people who have medical challenges in performing daily tasks.

Tran, who came to the U.S. from Vietnam about six years ago, says witnessing a lot of the aftereffects of the Vietnam War prompted him to want to figure out ways to use his skills and education to help people back home. Ankush was born in India and came to the U.S. when he was 4, and is bringing together his initial desire to become a doctor with an interest in both physics and technology.

Olives says the most recent Zahn cohort was big on collaboration. “Many of them shared skills so that everyone could take their prototypes and ventures to the next level,” she says.

The students from SyStem and City LABscape are a good example of collaboration.

Adrian Logan and Alex Babich won a $25,000 prize in the social impact category for SyStem, a computer-controlled garden that grows food in an acrylic box without soil or harmful chemicals. For every aspect of plant growth, the computer will adjust to make sure the right amount is applied in the box. For example, if the pH is too low, the computer will raise it to the level that will be most beneficial to the plant.

The team is trying to address both current and future food access problems. “The food should be growing where the people live,” Babich says.

Wei Zhang and Jorge Burgos, senior architecture students, and Sabrina Cohn, a sophomore studying environmental engineering, make up the City LABscape team. They’re working with middle schools to expose students to STEM study by growing plants.

Babich and Logan, of SyStem helped create the first plant pod for City LABscape.

Another team, WrkBook, aims to bridge the gap between contractors and workers. Potential employees create profiles on a website, and they’re matched with companies based on their skills. Two of the team members have relatives who work in construction and who inspired them to identify the problem to be solved.

“Our number one mission is that we’re trying to help people get jobs,” says WrkBook’s William De Andrade.

The winning teams will continue to develop their products, services and businesses at the incubator.

 

City Hopes Brooklyn Market Revamp Brings New Opportunity

(Photos by Deonna Anderson)

Walk along Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn toward the intersection of Caton Avenue, and you’ll start to hear reggae and soca music on the way to the Flatbush Caton Market. There are about 40 vendors there, most of Caribbean descent, and you can buy everything from coconut and jackfruit, to clothing printed with island flags.

The New York City Council in April approved a plan to demolish and replace the market with a new one, and add 250 units of affordable housing to the mix. Amid concerns about gentrification and displacement, the city is promising to preserve and expand the market — a retail center valued by many longtime residents — and support local entrepreneurs.

“Everybody who lives in Flatbush recognizes the changes that are happening,” says James Johnson-Piett, principal and CEO of Urbane Development, a partner in the project. “But I think the opportunity and promise in this project is to have a really strong gateway to Caribbean Flatbush. And to say, yes, there are changes happening but we’re still here.”

The development team worked with the Caribbean American Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CACCI), which currently manages the market, during the public input process, according to Meredith Marshall, managing partner and co-founder of BRP Development, the lead firm on the project. CACCI will still be part of the market, with its trade center located on the second floor of the facility. (One of the largest African-American-owned development companies in the U.S., BRP also has projects in Harlem, East New York and Bedford-Stuyvesant, and in New Jersey and Baltimore.)

Flatbush Caton Market was the brainchild of former City Councilwoman Una Clarke. The cultural hub opened as an outdoor market in 2000 and moved into its current building in 2002.

“I am very pleased to see the new visionary redevelopment of the Flatbush Caton Market,” Clarke said in a press release earlier this year. “When the initial vendors were moved from the streets to the parking lot with a tent as cover, I never thought they would end up in a building. The community congratulates [the Mayor Bill] de Blasio administration for the redevelopment of the site to provide affordable housing while preserving the market as a small business hub.”

Twenty-two percent of the 250 affordable units will be set aside for low-income residents, 30 percent for moderate-income, and 48 percent for middle-income. Preference will be given to those local to the district. BRP will be using Low-Income Housing Tax Credits to finance the project. Some capital — total estimated cost is $135 million — is coming from the city.

The new facility will also have a community space and a commercial kitchen that will serve as an incubator space for existing market vendors and community entrepreneurs.

On a recent Thursday in May, Isra Gordon, owner of Delicious Ending Catering and Tea House, was getting ready for her day’s work at the market. She has occupied a corner there for three and a half years and says she welcomes the redevelopment.

“It is just wonderful how they want this to happen for us,” she said. “They want to see us grow.”

While Gordon was visibly excited to talk about the project, others expressed nervousness or indifference.

Telma Reid, who has sold infant and children’s clothing in the market for two years, said she hopes the new market turns out better than what it is now.

“Right now, I don’t know if people know what we are,” she said, adding that she’s open to the change as long as developers keep veteran vendors in mind. From the outside, it’s currently unclear what is being sold in the blue-and-green-painted building. But take a walk through the market, and you’ll see vendors selling items that range from rice and beans to clothes and personal goods like shea butter and handmade soaps.

Unfortunately, foot traffic into the building in recent years has slowed down. And vendors say they have struggled to make money.

“If you make $90 now, it’s plenty,” said James White, a worker at the Golden Seven Music Enterprise booth. “And I’m talking about weekly.” He added that in the past, the market was packed. “You couldn’t even walk through here,” he said.

To address foot traffic concerns, the development partners plan to run a marketing campaign.

“The market doesn’t have any branding whatsoever,” Marshall said. “So, we’re going to work on rebranding, have a whole digital strategy. As part of the development, you’re going to see a lot of attention paid to the market, basically rebrand the market and revamp some of the products and services that are sold at the market.” The NYC Economic Development Corporation made an agreement with the developers that ensures existing vendors will pay comparable rents to what they are today in the new space.

As those vendors prepare to relocate to a temporary space less than a mile away this fall, where they will remain during the new construction, Urbane has also been meeting with them one-on-one to prepare for the move and get to know their needs, goals and challenges. With that data, Urbane has developed a curriculum of entrepreneurial support, with a focus on core business planning and operation, as well as tailored information for vendors in specific industries, such as textiles, food and personal goods. Vendors are also receiving financial assistance with relocation costs.

“We recognize that every time you move a business, it’s going to be a challenge,” Johnson-Piett says.

 



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