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Podcast: Informing, Legitimizing, and Capitalizing MWBEs

How the city of Newark is making sure entrepreneurs of color are at the forefront of business expansion and real estate development

The City Accelerator initiative is a collaboration between Governing, the City 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.

Small businesses, especially those owned by people of color, are threatened by the financial impact of COVID-19. A network of practitioners dedicated to the prosperity of small businesses matters now more than ever. Together, five cities -- Atlanta, El Paso, Long Beach, Newark and Rochester -- partnered with City Accelerator to explore how they can play a role in facilitating the equitable growth of their local businesses. With support from subject-matter expert, Rod Miller, president and CEO of Ascendant Global, cities identified and implemented inclusive strategies to help their local businesses thrive. 

Listen to learn how the City of Newark partnered with City Accelerator to support the growth of an inclusive business ecosystem in its city. For immediate guidance on how Newark is supporting small businesses during COVID-19, check out the resources on its website.

This podcast series was recorded live from Long Beach in June 2019, where the cities gathered to share lessons learned and successes from their participation in the City Accelerator. In this episode, Newark shares how it is supporting businesses owned by people of color through a business portal and Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) certification events, such as “MWBE Shut in or Revival.”

Guests featured in this episode include:

If you’re interested in learning more or bringing these lessons to your city, sign up to be notified when the City Accelerator Local Business and Job Growth Implementation guide is released.


Paul Taylor: Live from MADE by Millworks Space for Creatives in Long Beach, California, the home of the original Rosie the Riveter! This is Living for the City!

Five cities on a mission to level up the economic opportunities for entrepreneurs of color -- a mission supported by the nonprofit Living Cities and the Citi Foundation. I'm Paul Taylor, from Governing, along with Rod Miller, founder, President and CEO of Ascendant Global, and the cohort lead for this 18-month journey on local business and job growth. 

This time out -- Newark, New Jersey -- America’s come-back inclusive renaissance city! You think you can live up to that? 

Bernel Hall: I think we can. Let's talk about it. My name is Bernel Hall. I am the President and CEO of the Newark Community Economic Development Corporation.

Paul: The implementation guide points to Newark’s work in having local businesses play a leading role in the redevelopment of the city. What is the secret sauce, and how can other cities steal it? 

Bernel: The secret sauce is wrapped around Mayor Ras Baraka’s economic policy and philosophy, which is really around inclusive prosperity and equitable growth. As an EDC, our way of implementing that policy is really around making sure Minority Owned Business Enterprises (MWBEs) are informed, legitimized, and capitalized. We've started to have programs which really bring MWBEs to the front of any conversations that are taking place in the city around business expansion and/or real estate development. 

We've done so from creating a business portal and process that basically promotes MWBE businesses by making sure that they are always aware of any requests for proposals (RFPs) that are coming out from large local anchors -- whether it be private or government institutions. We're also making sure the MWBEs come in contact with the decision-makers at these institutions, via networking events that put minority business and women entrepreneurs in the room with CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. Companies like Prudential, Panasonic, etc., as well as large real estate developers who are leading the way to this $4 billion of real estate development pipeline in Newark is currently experiencing. 

Paul: How has being part of City Accelerator changed or helped the way that the city views the role of racial equity and economic inclusion?

Bernel: Great question. I think the Accelerator really informed us of how we could be more aggressive without being too prescriptive. And a good example of that is we recently have created a program -- I’m really from the south, so you'll laugh at this statement -- but we're doing a program called the MWBE certification “Shut In” or “Revival.” So basically, in partnership with Rutgers business school, we're going to take over their auditorium and have MWBEs come in from 10am-10pm. We will pay for 15 certified parties to come in and certify MWBEs for federal jobs, local jobs, and county jobs. This is so that we don't run into the situation which many of us in this work run into, where we push on large institutional corporations and developers and say, “You need to hire and procure more MWBEs.” And they tell us, “We can't find any that are bonded or licensed or certified for this work.” We want to make sure we eliminate those excuses and facilitate procurement in a way that has been unseen in the city in the last 40 years.

Rod Miller: One of the things that's interesting about Newark is that it’s really going through a renaissance. There is a lot of property within the city that's publicly owned. How are you leveraging the assets that you, as the city, hold to actually drive forward development and opportunities for businesses and of color?

Bernel: You clearly did your homework. Newark recently became the first city in the state of New Jersey to be designated for the creation of a land bank. The city has roughly 1,400 vacant lots, many of which are blighted. The idea is to take control of those assets in a way that facilitates faster dispositions and purposeful dispositions for business expansion, MWBE joint venture development where we give MWBE developers that are looking to build a track record the opportunity to rebuild their own neighborhoods in a way that's equitable and creates generational wealth.

Rod: Then you layer on top of that the national opportunities and legislation that creates new opportunities for capital to flood in. How is Newark going to leverage the opportunities zones to actually drive forward development?

Bernel: In a blended way. What I mean by that is, I love the idea of opportunity zones because it's patient capital that goes into neighborhoods that otherwise would not be afforded that type of investment. Newark has 13 opportunity zones, and what we would look to do is create a fund or series of funds that blend opportunity zone capital with low income housing tax credit, new market tax credit, and other financial vehicles, to boost investments in the neighborhoods outside of downtown. Downtown honestly has been in a renaissance for a little longer than the rest of the city. 

We see the opportunity zone investment strategy as a way to create investments from the outside in. In the neighborhoods that are on the exterior of the cities and have been disinvested for the last 40 years, we see opportunities in capitol has been a way to do work in those neighborhoods as downtown continues to prosper.

Paul: Before we let you go, be a cultural informant for me on language -- “MWBE” versus the evolving use of “entrepreneurs of color.” Where do you come down on that? What's appropriate use under what context, and are we bound at the initials because it's in federal government forums? Walk me through that language use.

Bernel: I think it really comes to how the entrepreneurs in the space see themselves. Our position is just to make sure that they're informed, legitimized, and capitalized in a way in which the way they're labeled, at the end of the day, is winners.

Paul: Nice. We'll leave it there. Thank you so much. Interesting conversation. 

Paul W. Taylor is the Senior Editor for e.Republic Editorial and of its flagship titles - Governing and Government Technology. He can be reached at or on Twitter at @pwtaylor.
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