Black-Owned Businesses at the Heart of Communities

BHM screenshotAt Groupon, small businesses and local communities are our passion. So during Black History Month, we wanted to highlight black-owned small businesses, which are an important part of many communities in Chicago and the rest of the country. To help us articulate this point, we reached out to three local community and economic development organizations to discuss the importance of these businesses to community development in our home city of Chicago.

bernitaphotoWe first spoke to Bernita Johnson-Gabriel, Executive Director of Quad Communities Development Corporation (QCDC). Johnson-Gabriel explained that there is a strong correlation between the health of a community and the number of local businesses that are owned by community members. She has seen that community members tend to support their own locally-owned businesses and “celebrate the fact that they have kept their doors open…You know their connection, their struggle.” She also sees a trend in locally-owned businesses employing locally and investing in the community, both critical to broader community revitalization.

With this in mind, economic development is one of the main areas of focus for QCDC “in order to create a sustainable, healthy, mixed-income neighborhood” in the four communities it serves on the south side of Chicago. As Johnson-Gabriel explained, QCDC was founded in 2003 as part of New Communities Program, and focused on the task of commercial revitalization right from the start. As she says, “it was always in the committee’s mind that we would nurture entrepreneurship…we did not want to become a community of national retailers.” To succeed in their mission, QCDC offers tech assistance, workshops, access to capital, social media help, financial assistance, legal assistance, and support for sole proprietors that have not yet incorporated.

chetphotoWe also spoke to Chet Jackson, Executive Director at West Humboldt Park Development Council. His organization works on three main areas: community development, economic development, and affordable housing development. As Jackson explain, much of their work focuses on “revitalising the commercial corridor so it can because the economic engine it should be and once was.” Jackson feels that more black-owned businesses are needed in primarily black neighborhoods because “you don’t see enough of yourself as you go shopping.” He said without more of these businesses residents are “not circulating [their] dollar in an economically viable way for the community.”

Jackson also pointed out that local business owners have more credibility in the community because they also live there. Community members see them “putting their money where their mouth is,” says Jackson, and “[their] ability to effect change is greater.” As he explained, “When you have local residents owning businesses adding to the local economy it changes the face of the community…Instead of money circulating nationally or across the city, it stays in the community, which makes for a much stronger vibrant community—which should be the ultimate goal.”

Our third chat was with Dionne Baux, Program Officer for the Chicago chapter of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC). LISC provides resources in the form of flexible capital and technology assistance to community organizations such as QCDC and West Humboldt Park Development Council. They valued the expertise these local groups have in their own communities, so rather than provide community support themselves, they support these smaller groups to do the work in their own community.

Baux reiterated many of the sentiments of both Johnson-Gabriel and Jackson, explaining that small businesses are vital for workforce development in a community, because “they hire local, diverse individuals.” She also believes the black business owners are excellent role models for the youth in their community, and they better understand the culture where their customers live. Baux also brought up the concept of “generational wealth.” She explained that access to capital is one of the biggest barriers to opening a business, so locally-owned businesses are a great way for community members to pass down their wealth to their children and foster continual local economic growth.

In all three of our interviews it was clear that local business ownership is vital to the success of communities, and that black business owners have unique perspectives and value to contribute to the communities in which they live and work. Groupon is proud to support all our black business owners, both during Black History Month and throughout the year.

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