OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma City is making intentional investments to ensure minority-owned small businesses have the resources they need to grow and thrive, but there still is much work to do.
Ongoing racial and geographic disparities and generational poverty continue to limit access for people of color to business credit, investment capital and mentorship, Mayor David Holt wrote in a recent opinion piece in The Hill, co-authored by Levar Stoney, mayor of Richmond, Virginia.
The two mayors pointed to investments their cities have made to address the disparities. “Doing so will not just empower those entrepreneurs but strengthen our entire economy for years to come,” they wrote.
“Oklahoma City is moving in the right direction with the commitment to investments, but there still are gaps that exist,” Black business owner Quintin Hughes said, noting only 2% of small business owners are Black. Meanwhile, the U.S. Census reports 14% of the city’s residents are Black.
“There’s really opportunity for growth there,” Hughes said. “I’m optimistic about the investment that we’re committed to and the opportunity to achieve parity. The concern is that we continue to be invested in that and even more.”
Hughes is co-owner of Kindred Spirits, a bar and gathering space in the EastPoint development. EastPoint is in the 1700 block of NE 23rd Street, what once was a vibrant commercial corridor.
It took Hughes and his business partners more than a year to get the $100,000 financing needed for their project because the location was on the east side, where lenders have avoided investing for decades, he said.
The years of disinvestment and resulting economic condition of the area made it nearly impossible to convince lenders a project there could be viable, Hughes said.
In fact, EastPoint developer Jonathan Dodson said 26 banks refused to finance the development before Citizens Bank of Edmond agreed.
Dodson’s Pivot Project Development purchased two buildings totaling 38,000 square feet. The first became the new home for Centennial Health, a community clinic. The first tenant in the second building was Intentional Fitness, followed by Kindred Spirits. The complex also is home to The Market at Eastpoint.
Pivot has granted an equity stake in the project to EastPoint tenants. Those who sign a 10-year lease have 15% ownership in their spaces.
That is the kind of community development members of Northeast OKC Renaissance Inc. have been advocating for, Hughes said. The group’s goal is development from within to improve the quality of life for the residents of northeast Oklahoma City through both economic prosperity and preservation of cultural traditions.
The success of EastPoint will make it easier for future projects in the area to secure financing, but there is concern about what those projects might be, Hughes said.
“The fear in our community is displacement, the fear of cultural erasure,” he said, “basically what Deep Deuce is today.”
The once-predominantly African American downtown neighborhood was revitalized to the point that the Black-owned and -operated businesses were priced out.
“One great opportunity here is to learn from the communities across the country that have suffered from gentrification,” Hughes said. “We want the folks here to benefit from the economic opportunities. We’re looking for allyship rather than exploitation.”
One example of Oklahoma City’s investment in minority-owned small businesses was the creation of the Small Business Continuity Program, using federal relief dollars to help the businesses overcome the challenges caused by COVID-19.
The OKC Rescue Program is offering small business owners and nonprofits with 100 or fewer full-time employees a second round of financial support to covers business services like marketing, accounting, or business planning, outdoor facade improvements or COVID-19 mitigation expenses like ventilation and outdoor seating.
Hughes, who works as a strategic adviser for community development at Echo Investment Capital, said the company has “shown a willingness to put their money where their mouth is.”
“My role allows me to build impact investment funds focused on real estate and small business development in northeast Oklahoma City,” he said.
Part of the solution is educating entrepreneurs about alternative access to capital and opportunities for venture capital, Hughes said. The city’s future Henrietta B. Foster Center for Northeast Small Business Development and Entrepreneurship will be an important part of the education process, he said.
MAPS 4 includes $15 million for the center, which will focus on minority small and disadvantaged businesses.
“This city is going to be in a better place in five years, 10 years, 20 years,” Hughes said.