St. Louis SBTDC aiding Ferguson recovery
The unrest in Ferguson two years ago gripped national attention.
Generating far less publicity, however, has been the fate of businesses in Ferguson and adjacent St. Louis suburbs that suffered disproportionately from the devastation. Even businesses that weren’t directly damaged have seen receipts drop precipitously as customers stayed away, further affecting the entire community. Also largely hidden was the fact that the area, like too many urban areas across the country, has suffered from high unemployment, high crime, high mortality rates, significant numbers of vacant lots and abandoned buildings and homelessness for decades.
“I have spent nearly my entire career pursuing economic empowerment, education and poverty alleviation,” said Kevin Wilson, director of the St. Louis Small Business & Technology Development Center (SBTDC). The center is part of the Missouri SBTDC, a statewide program of the University of Missouri Extension Business Development Program (BDP) that provides professional business analysis and consultation as well as education in a variety of business disciplines. “St. Louis is my home. So the ongoing devastation, the unrest in 2014 and the subsequent lack of recovery hit me hard. No one likes to see their community suffer.”
In 2014, the St. Louis SBTDC and U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) immediately stepped in to help the community. The SBA declared the area an economic disaster and opened a response center in the Ferguson Public Library. Two years later, the SBA, St. Louis SBTDC and numerous partners continue to rebuild Ferguson and the surrounding area.
One of the center’s newer initiatives is encouraging the establishment of franchises through a program called FranFIT. This is a nearly three-decades-old partnership between FranNet and America’s SBDC, the national SBDC organization. Business ownership often seems out of reach in today’s competitive and complex marketplace, even more so in distressed communities such as Ferguson. FranFIT provides potential entrepreneurs with the training, tools, resources and support necessary to properly advise clients on potential franchising opportunities.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
- Wilson also serves on the St. Louis Promise Zone Action Committee, which oversees activities in Ferguson and surrounding areas. Launched in 2013, the program designates high-poverty urban, rural and tribal communities as Promise Zones and provides resources to support business, improve education, reduce crime and improve health.
- The St. Louis SBTDC cosponsored a ChallengeHER event with SBA and its partners to create more opportunity for women-owned small businesses. This free event educated women entrepreneurs on government contracting and how to participate in SBA’s Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) program. Participants could also sign up for Contract Connections, one-on-one meetings with procurement officials, government buyers and large prime contractors.
- The St. Louis SBTDC is also working with the North City Economic Development Coalition to facilitate economic and community development programs in north St. Louis City and County. Both areas are distressed, low income areas negatively impacted by decades of neglect and the 2014 civil unrest. In partnership with the local Women’s Business Center and the Veterans Business Resource Center, the center provides technical assistance to low income residents wishing to become entrepreneurs.
- Wilson and St. Louis center staff also established a temporary office on the campus of the University of Missouri-St. Louis (UMSL) to provide better access to UMSL student and faculty entrepreneurs and to businesses affected by unrest; worked with the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership (EDP) to aid affected businesses with a $1 million small business recovery fund; and referred businesses to attorneys and accountants to help with the complex insurance paperwork.
“Yes, we’re pouring a lot of time, love and effort into these initiatives,” said Wilson. “But I am not content to let Ferguson or any area of St. Louis City and County fall into neglect and despair. We can’t do everything, but I hope what we are doing will make a real difference to the people in these areas today and years down the road.”
For an example of how the St. Louis SBTDC is helping minority owned businesses succeed, see Success story A-Plus Contractors LLC — Saint Charles.
For more information on the BDP and the work it does to promote prosperity throughout Missouri, see missouribusiness.net/centers.
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