BY SERGIE WILLOUGHBY
As gentrification continues to spread throughout New York City with its effects shuttering small businesses that once thrived, Black-owned businesses in Harlem in particular are increasingly on the decline. In fact, recent stats indicate that between 2007 and 2012, Black-owned businesses plummeted by 30 percent.
To help these business owners re-gain footing and move forward, the Harlem Commonwealth Council (HCC) has launched Growth Path, a small business advisory service designed specifically to help scale minority and women owned businesses in the community. “Growth Path is a direct response to the challenges that come from being in a very dynamic environment that is being gentrified and confronted with competition from retailers, a shift in demographics and the reality of increasing rents in the neighborhood,” Harlem Commonwealth Council President & CEO Kelvin Collins told TNJ.com in an exclusive interview.
To this end, Collins says program officials have compiled subject matter experts in the areas of sales & marketing, financial management and human resources to help achieve the mission. “Growth Path is like a SWOT team that we’re sending out to small businesses to help them deal with the rising challenges of being a minority or women-owned business in Harlem in 2017,” notes Collins.
The subject was discussed last week at a forum that served as a kickoff event.
“The Growth Path Program is an excellent method to bring real, lasting help to key businesses in the community. When I first met with the business owner and told her about the program, the look of both relief and excitement on her face was priceless,” a Growth Path consultant remarked.
“The Growth Path Kickoff event was inspiring and exciting. It was great to meet the other consultants, business owners, and leaders of the program. However, what was most inspiring is the leadership listened to the problems of the business owners and came up with solutions right on the spot! They lead not by title, but by their actions,” John T. Childress, president, Childress Business Consulting, LLC, said of the event.
Also in attendance was entrepreneur Angie Hancock, one of the program’s managers. Currently, she helps run the program and recruits/organizes the consultant base, but in 2006, she launched Experience: Harlem, a media marketing and events company to promote small businesses in Harlem. In a recent interview, Hancock told TNJ.com that a program like Growth Path would have been very beneficial to her back then.
“Small businesses owners have a million things on their plates and not enough hours in the day to get them done. One of the things that Growth Path aims to do is provide a resource to enable small businesses to get some of those important tasks off their plates, particularly as it relates to finance, human capital or marketing & sales. An expert in those areas will help execute the project for them. If I were participating in the program as a small business owner, this kind of help would be invaluable,” she explains.
She continues, “Things would have been a lot easier if I had had a digital marketing resource available, free of charge, that would have been able to provide guidance on the proper way to set up a website and help me navigate the waters of selecting a designer, setting up the site and marketing to get people to come to the site.”
Hancock’s experience as a business owner and intimate knowledge of the lack of promotion Harlem has gotten from tourist guides over the years makes her an ideal advocate for the program. A native of Chicago, Hancock moved to Harlem in 2003 and was amazed that she could not find an adequate amount of information about Harlem.
“When I moved here, I would go to CitySearch.com and could not find information about Harlem. I thought that was pretty incredible because what I learned about Harlem as a child was that it had a rich history; I felt it was not being acknowledged in the way that it should have been. This was during a time when things were beginning to change very rapidly; there were great restaurants and boutiques opening up, but there just was not a good resource to get the word out about small businesses in Harlem,” she shares.
“My working with HCC on the Growth Path program is a natural extension of what I started doing back in 2006: being a resource for small businesses to help spread the word about all of the fabulous restaurants, services and events that are taking place in the Harlem community,” she adds.
Business owners looking to be teamed up with a Growth Path consultant simply have to have been in business for at least one year, have annual revenue of $150,000 to $10,000,000 and have at least one employee. Says Collins, “We are looking for firms that have established a solid product or service and are now confronted with growth challenges. We will vet them, accept them into the program and match them up with a consultant based on their area of interest or challenge that they’ve identified, and we will allocate time with that consultant to address those issues, come up with a solution and get them on their way.”