The 2019 NBA All-Star Game is coming to Charlotte next year, and the North Carolina city plans to leverage the event to help out minority-owned businesses.

“The city was really impressed with the NBA’s commitment to our local minority-owned business and ways the league and the city could assure those businesses were connected to the opportunities available around All-Star weekend," says Nancy Rosado, who manages the Charlotte Business Inclusion program. "The NBA said, 'If you have any creative, out-of-the-box ideas for how we can engage our community, let us know.”

Charlotte did just that.

Collaborating with the NBA and Interise, a national network focused on helping grow businesses and entrepreneurs, Charlotte has launched AMP UP, a training program to prepare minority-owned businesses for working as suppliers and vendors with the NBA during that week in February.

AMP UP is offering mentoring and face time with NBA executives in hopes that the sports association and its teams will partner with local business owners. Participants will learn how to access capital needed for growth, and about ways to improve their marketing and sales strategies.

Charlotte’s partnership comes at a time when the city is focusing on helping minority businesses grow. In 2013, Charlotte revamped its small business opportunity program. It was relaunched as Charlotte Business Inclusion, which focuses on growing the firms owned by women and by people of color. The city in 2017 spent $81 million on contracts with minority- and women-owned businesses.

However, the bulk of the money was spent with businesses owned by white women. According to the city’s disparity study published in November 2017, white women are awarded twice as much in city contracts than African-American business owners, and more than five times as much as Hispanic-owned businesses.

With that in mind, AMP UP has been geared specifically to businesses owned by people of color. The hope is for the city to spend even more money with businesses owned by people of color while continuing to maintain the amount spent with those owned by white women.  

Large sporting events like the All-Star Game can serve as a valuable catalyst for cities to redouble their efforts around supporting and developing small and minority-owned businesses. Los Angeles, for example, is using the 2028 Olympic Games to help hone the city's outreach to minority contractors.

Charlotte isn't promising local business owners that they will get contracts with the NBA. But the training, according to city officials, can prepare them for future opportunities with the league. And city officials believe there are broader payoffs: The convening of business owners from across the city can facilitate better collaboration between minority-owned firms and help foster business growth.

“This is a great way to build up your business, possibly for the All-Star Game and possibly to do business with the city of Charlotte or with other businesses in Charlotte,” says Rosado.

A central component of the training, Interise's Streetwise MBA, launched in 2004. Last year, alumni of the program secured more than $776 million in contracts from both the public and private sectors. More than two-thirds of the business owners who have trained in the program increased their annual revenues in 2017, according to Interise.

The training program kicked off in May, and more sessions are planned between now and the All-Star Game. 

"I feel like we have a long way to go when it comes to growing our spending with minority business," says Rosado. "The focus in fiscal year 2018 and going into fiscal year 2019 is how we can work with our minority business so we can see more spending with those firms."