Organizations step up investment in Milwaukee minority-run businesses

JCP Construction is currently working on the ThriveOn King building on North Martin Luther King Drive. Ken Robertson, executive vice president, chief operating officer and chief financial officer of the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, says investments like this are a way to improve spaces that have been neglected in Milwaukee. (Rendered by Engberg Anderson Architects)

It’s no secret that some communities in Milwaukee suffer from a lack of business investment that creates opportunity.

COVID-19 has exposed many of the social inequalities that fuel this neglect, and some organizations in Milwaukee are trying to do something about it.

In April, the Greater Milwaukee Foundation increased its usual minority business investments with a new $1.54 million impact investing loan to Milwaukee-based JCP Construction.

According to Ken Robertson, executive vice president, chief operating officer and chief financial officer of the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, the investment was a way to move more capital into a space that had none.

“It’s not about equality,” Robertson said. “It’s about fairness and meeting people where they are.”

He said the Greater Milwaukee Foundation plans to invest more aggressively in neglected communities.

“When you look across the city, you can see the investment inequality,” he said. “Parts of this city will not be developed without support.”

The Greater Milwaukee Foundation isn’t shy about focusing on areas that need support rather than investing elsewhere in the city, Robertson said.

One of JCP Construction’s directors said the money would be put to good use.

“It started with a series of conversations about expanding JCP’s reach, and we’re now doing that by strategically hiring new talent for our office,” said Clifton Phelps, vice president of business development for JCP Construction. “This investment has allowed us to fully invest in our business and increase salaries and hire the staff we need to grow and compete with non-minority businesses.”

JCP Construction is currently working on the ThriveOn King building on North Martin Luther King Drive; the Outreach Community Health Center on West Capitol Drive; and the new Safe & Sound building in Sherman Park.

“A little more work on the legs”

In May, Northwestern Mutual announced a $5 million investment, targeting two black-led community development financial institutions based in Milwaukee, to increase access to capital for black and African-American businesses.

These two institutions, Legacy Redevelopment Corp. and Northwest Side Community Development Corp., work with businesses at all stages to grow their businesses.

Terese Caro, president of Legacy Redevelopment Corp., said institutions like hers serve businesses that lack resources.

“These are non-traditional, non-predatory loans that help prepare people for the next step,” she said. “We need to do a little more leg work to support small businesses.”

According to Northwestern Mutual, this investment is part of a larger investment in the black community.

“Our partnership with Legacy Redevelopment Corporation and Northwest Side Community Development Corporation is part of a larger effort stemming from Northwestern Mutual’s Sustained Action for Racial Equity (SARE) task force, which was established in 2020,” said Evan Reed. , senior director of Northwestern Mutual. impact investing strategy. “This task force takes a holistic look at racism and inequality from all angles, including efforts we can take to help close the racial wealth gap.”

Reed said it will take time to see results, saying this investment is about putting down roots and seizing new opportunities.

“We want to help each of these organizations strengthen their balance sheets to leverage additional investments toward scale and self-sufficiency,” he said.

Outside of her role at Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corp., Tiffany Miller is also a small business owner. (NNS File Photo by Ryeshia Farmer)

Another initiative, the Black Business Boost program, works to provide 100 Black entrepreneurs and business owners in the greater Milwaukee area with access to key support services to start, strengthen or grow their businesses.

The program helps start-ups, existing businesses, and individuals who are at the idea stage of starting a business. Black Business Boost offers credit recovery assistance and support; find coworking spaces, incubation programs and accelerators; assistance in the form of equity and loans; business training; and personalized support.

The initiative, launched in October, is funded with support from PNC Bank and is led by the Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corp., or WWBIC, in conjunction with the City of Milwaukee Housing Authority.

“WWBIC has always been there and has always recognized the inequalities,” said Wendy Bauman, president of the organization. “We always wanted to do more and we had the opportunity to do so.”

“I hope programs like this don’t need to exist one day,” added Tiffany Miller, Black Business Boost coach.

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