As Greenville grows and development increases around the city, we sometimes hear the word “gentrification” thrown around. The idea that people in urban neighborhoods might be uprooted by developments aimed at the wealthy is an upsetting one. But what about the local businesses in these same neighborhoods? Can’t they be the victims of gentrification, too?
The answer is yes.
“We talk about residents being displaced, but we never talk about businesses being displaced,” says Dan Weidenbenner, Executive Director of Mill Community Ministries, a collection of social entrepreneurs working together for holistic development in underserved communities. “I think that’s often overlooked because there’s so much economic development in the Upstate that’s really about bringing big businesses in rather than just focusing on how can we create businesses here with people that are from here.”
Recently, Village Launch, a local nonprofit (and a branch of Mill Community Ministries) that offers personal and business financial training for emerging under-resourced entrepreneurs, took action to combat that trend.
They teamed with CommunityWorks Carolina, which provides small business and housing loans to underserved areas of the community, for a new Neighborhood Small Business Initiative.
The initiative, which is also supported by the Greenville Local Development Corporation (GLDC) will provide funding, training, and direct support to primarily minority and women-owned businesses in the city’s West Side. Participating businesses will receive direct coaching, education, and mentoring through Village Launch.
“It really is a great initiative,” says Rhonda Rawlings, Village Launch’s Neighborhood Engagement Director. “I always like to say that we can help businesses go from surviving to thriving. We offer what we call a ‘BEA class’ which stands for business entrepreneur academy.”
“It’s a 10-week course where existing entrepreneurs or businesses can learn so many different things,” Rawlings says, “from revamping your business plan or building a new business plan to how to use social media to best showcase what you do. We take them through these courses and we have skilled facilitators and a business coach that are doing this with us as well.”
To create the initiative, Village Launch and CommunityWorks emulated the successful Start:ME business training program based in Spartanburg’s Northside, originally developed by Emory University, and they made sure that the 10-week course was just the beginning.
“At the end, when they graduate from the program,” Rawlings says, “we have a wealth of networks and partnerships in the community that can help them. We still make sure that they have access to the business coach whenever they need him, and we’re working with CommunityWorks’ Women’s Business Center, trying to provide low-interest loans for the entrepreneurs if they need it. So it really is an ongoing process.”
Weidenbenner adds that small business owners on the West Side aren’t the only people who will benefit from this new initiative.
“Diversity is so important,” he says. “It not only creates a more unique and vibrant place for all of us to call home, it creates jobs. It creates income, and I think it creates upward economic mobility. It keeps money in the community.”
For more information, visit VillageLaunch.org.