How Charlotte, N.C., is Expanding Opportunities for Minority Businesses
With a new training program and improved digital tools, the city is working to support its community of minority-owned enterprises.
The following blog post by the City of Charlotte, N.C., a current City Accelerator participant, is part of the City Accelerator initiative, a collaboration between the Citi Foundation and Living Cities that aims to speed the adoption of innovative local government projects within and across cities that will have a significant impact on the lives of their residents, especially those with low incomes.
Over the past 15 months, the city of Charlotte has taken a number of vital steps to support Minority Business Enterprises (MBEs) in our community, helping them build capactiy, identifying new opportunities and partnerships, and advocating for better inclusion of those businesses in city contracting. As part of the City Accelerator program, we have focused on improved training, real-time access to opportunities, and the use of new digital tools.
First and foremost, we launched the AMP UP Charlotte program, a 13-week training program that prepares minority business owners for growth and expansion through development services, mentoring, targeted training, and access to large corporations for contract and procurement opportunities. With 20 participants in the first cohort, AMP UP (which stands for "Accelerate, Motivate, Propel") provides small business owners a unique opportunity to complete the award-winning and internationally-recognized StreetWise MBA curriculum, developed by Interise. In addition to training on financial management and analysis, human resources and accessing capital, the program helps participants build out their professional network.
“Owning a small business can be extremely isolating. AMP UP has allowed me to develop new relationships with other small business owners," says Dee Dixon, the CEO of Charlotte-based Pride Communications and a participant in the program. "It’s quite empowering to know that many of us have the same challenges and the AMP UP class gives us an opportunity to learn from each other."
The first cohort began in May, and those participants will graduate in December. A second class will begin in 2019.
In the next two years, Charlotte will find itself in the national spotlight, as it plays host to the National Basketball Association All-Star Game in 2019 and the Republican National Convention in 2020. Those two major events bring a host of contracting opportunities, and the city hopes to help minority-owned businesses capitalize on those. While Charlotte can’t guarantee local business owners will get contracts with the NBA or the RNC, those and other major events can serve as a catalyst in our efforts to support and develop minority-owned businesses.
“The NBA All-Star Game will provide an economic boost for the city of Charlotte, and it is important that all businesses have a chance to share in the benefits,” says Mayor Vi Lyles. “Having the AMP UP program to maximize the participation of minority-owned companies is an invaluable asset and I’m excited to see those businesses continue to thrive, long after the NBA All-Star Game.”
Charlotte's efforts haven't just been aimed at helping minority-owned businesses build capacity: We've also focused on improving our purchasing opportunities with the city itself.
In fall 2017 the city formed a Procurement Advisory and Inclusion Council, comprising department leaders throughout city government, to help ensure our policies and procedures adequately reflect the needs of minority-owned businesses. The group will also implement new strategies concerning MBE mentoring programs.
In addition, the city will use findings from a disparity study completed in November 2017 to make recommendations regarding Charlotte’s compliance and diversity practices and policies. That study found a substantial disparity in city spending with minority- and women-owned businesses. The Accelerator Team has identified several new efforts, such as the establishment of a sheltered market program, as well as additional anchor institution efforts, that can result in real dollars being driven to Charlotte’s minority business base. The disparity study’s findings further solidified the need to identify operational contracting opportunities throughout the city with particular emphasis on turning to MBEs to fill these gaps.
We're also implementing some key technology improvements, making it easier for all businesses to have a better sense of upcoming opportunities with the city. We're creating a digital enterprise-wide forecasting pipeline that will show all our procurement needs and associated opportunities. Through a cloud-based app, businesses will be able to search for opportunities, receive alerts about new listings or changes in scheduling, create joint venture opportunities, and keep abreast of city needs through a number of texting and social media options, as well as live-chat communications.