Franklin County has joined a national network to develop small businesses and entrepreneurs in the county's underserved neighborhoods.
Mike Foley reports.
In collaboration with the Columbus Foundation, the Columbus Partnership, and Rev1 Ventures, Franklin County will join the national non-profit Forward Cities for a two-year pilot program. Franklin County Commissioner Kevin Boyce says it's an intentional effort to ensure resources are available to everyone looking to start or maintain their business.
"To connect entrepreneurs and small business people in struggling neighborhoods with expertise, funding, and access to the things that they need to be successful," Boyce said. "As more and more businesses are available to succeed in the struggling areas of central Ohio, we can begin to reduce the wealth gap which in turn will make it easier for more small businesses to succeed. This is not a quick and easy solution to a very difficult problem. If we can reduce the impact that zip codes have on your chance of success, then we really will be making the community better for all of its residents."
Forward Cities launched in 2014 with a commitment to accelerate inclusive innovation and economic development. It's comprised of about 30 communities, with Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Indianapolis, and Franklin County being the most recent participants. Forward Cities CEO Christopher Gergen says many cities are prospering, but often at the expense of economic inclusion. He describes the non-profit as taking a data-driven approach to find the barriers, and then following through with an action strategy.
"The big challenge we face in a lot of the communities in which we work is that there's a lack of trust," Gergen said. "They've talked for a long time about these problems, and yet there's been very taken little action. So what we're trying to drive toward in the context of our Forward Cities work is drive toward action. That within the next 6 to 8 months of us launching this initiative that we're looking to actually deploy capital and resources into a set of interventions that strive to overcome these barriers in meaningful ways."
L.C. Johnson will head the local aspect of the partnership with a focus on building an entire community environment that uplifts and supports individuals who historically have not had access to economic opportunities. The ultimate goal - more success stories like Aslyne Rodriguez, who shares some of her inspirational journey in creating Columbus-based EmpowerBus.
"My grandparents came from Puerto Rico with a second and third grade education,” Rodriguez said. “My maternal grandma had five kids. In her early 30's, her husband died. She raised five kids by herself. She never brought another man in the house, and she never remarried. She worked in a pillow factory and cleaned houses. She had a dream of owning a cake shop. Every birthday, she made all of her kids cakes. Every birthday, she had that dream of opening a cake shop. She never got to open up that cake shop, but I am her dream. I am her dream because I decided to step into my own dream. The dream was to help low-to-moderate income communities get to and from work, education, and health care opportunities. I participated in Rev1's Concept Academy. I worked on the poverty plan for Franklin County. I participate with the Columbus Partnership through Smart Columbus. I've been lifted up by the Columbus Foundation. I'm excited for the work that folks are doing, because the truth is we shouldn't have two cities - we should have one."
The two-year-program's $500,000 budget will be split among the partners, and the Columbus Foundation will provide office space for the new endeavor.