A news release from the organization says that downtown Springfield and the adjoining neighborhoods is one of the most diverse places in southwest Missouri with a population that is 21 percent Black, indigenous and people of color (BIPOC). But less than 5 percent of businesses in downtown Springfield are BIPOC-owned.
To address the disparity, the Downtown Springfield Association secured $25,000 in grant money to help up to five BIPOC entrepreneurs open a business downtown.
The release says the grants will be awarded by working with the identified needs of the new business and in conjunction with existing resources from the Springfield Finance and Development Corporation, city of Springfield and other community organizations.
This grant program is limited to new and expanding businesses with storefront locations in center city Springfield.
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The Downtown Springfield Association has received more than a dozen applications from entrepreneurs wanting to open businesses like restaurants and health and beauty stores.
Rusty Worley, executive director of the Downtown Springfield Association, said increasing the number of minority-owned businesses downtown has been a priority for several years, especially after events like the George Floyd killing in 2020 shown a light on racial issues in the country.
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Marlin Blakeney, who runs QCM Agency and Harbell’s sports bar, is one of the few minority business owners downtown. He said he was optimistic about the new grant program.
“I believe the grant is truly going to be very impactful,” Blakeney said.
Blakeney explained that the pandemic has been a difficult time for many entrepreneurs and he hoped that the grant program would give some minority business owners the boost they need to open up shop downtown.
“I’m very happy about it,” Blakeney said. “I think there’s a long way to go obviously with minority businesses. I think we are just touching the ground floor, but with what opportunities we have right now and the things that the city is doing I think that we are able to start building upon that and taking steps to take it to the next level in the next several years.”
The deadline to apply for the grant money is April 29. Interested parties can fill out an application online.
According to the Downtown Springfield Association, recipients must commit to the following milestones for engagement:
- Meet with representatives from U.S. Bank and city of Springfield Loan Officer to explore financing options.
- Complete one training program through the Missouri Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at MSU and efactory to strengthen the owner’s professional development (offered at no-charge to the award recipient).
- Engage in one-on-one assistance provided at no-charge with the Missouri SBDC at MSU.
- Attend one Minority in Business meeting to interact with minority business owners and advocates.
- Meet with DSA Communications Manager to learn about leveraging Downtown communications.
- Attend one DSA Mixer to connect with fellow Downtown business owners and stakeholders.