The Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro, CoMetta, and Bret Mazzei hosted a Zoom panel discussion on how we can build a more equitable economy in Greensboro. The issues of equity and economy were rated among the most important for the future by the Greensboro residents in the ReGenesis Greensboro poll (https://cometta.co/regenesis-greensboro).
The panel, which was moderated by Athan Lindsay of the Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro, featured representatives from business, government, and the nonprofit sector: Clyde Brown - RTriad, Danny Brown - United Maintenance Group, Niketa Greene - Greensboro Chamber of Commerce, and Justin Outling - Greensboro City Council.
A recording of the session is available on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=et2DJ8vZegI)
The following are some of the key ideas expressed in the session.
The Disparity is Real. Black residents have just 10% of the wealth that their White neighbors do. Only 3% of city contracts go to Black businesses in Greensboro. Minority businesses have suffered the most during the pandemic. If we are in agreement that we have a problem, then we have to identify what the problem is, said Clyde Brown. How do we build a system that creates equal opportunity for minority businesses?
Everyone Benefits with Equal Opportunity. The data indicates that cities prosper with equity. We need to see equity as good for all in Greensboro. Disparate outcomes hurt all of us, said Justin Outling, because we don’t get the benefit of everyone’s talents. He illustrated this point saying that major league baseball was diminished when there was a separate Negro league. You didn’t get the benefit of the best players in the world. So too, when you don’t have equity, you have really talented people who don’t have the opportunity to play. We are all going to grow together or perish together.
We Need to Take a Systemic Approach. The roadblocks to equal opportunity were systemically created and need a systemic response. We can’t policy our way out said Niketa Greene, we can’t be transactional. The economy, said Athan Lindsay, is like a table with multiple legs. We have to work across sectors -- business, government, non-profit, academia -- to provide support.
Focus on parity not only inclusion. Minority businesses aren’t often big enough to get city contracts. We need to create incentives for larger businesses to partner with smaller players on contracts. This also creates a pathway for learning for smaller businesses. Success and sustainability comes from learning from failure and being able to recover.
Increase Local Preference. Channel opportunities to local businesses. Minority contractors tend to hire within the community. Many large companies aren’t local and take money out of the community.
Zoom In to See Better. We have to focus at the 50 foot level v. 5,000 foot level to see better, says Justin Outling. We need to look at things more closely, at the level in which change actually happens. This can inform policy changes and understand what can make a difference.
Metrics Matter. We need quantitative and qualitative data on progress. We need to understand what to measure. Qualitative data alone doesn’t provide a full picture. We need to monitor key indicators and have leadership focus on key drivers.
Relationships Matter Most. Clyde Brown said the biggest challenge is building relationships. We tend to trust and do business with people we know observed Niketa Greene. Since middle school we tend to sit with people that look like us, she said, we trust the people we know. The Chamber of Commerce plays a role as a convener and connector to break that pattern. If you get to know people, you get beyond biases.
Mentors Enable Learning. A critical success factor is going beyond simply starting a business to creating a sustainable business. Mentors and coaches shortcut the long road to success. They provide access to critical information and people that you don't have when you are starting out. We need more platforms to meet more people who we don’t know, says Danny Brown. He explained how fostering new connections and referrals had been key to his success throughout his career, starting as a student intern at the Small Business Center.
Engagement and Advocacy Counts. Our duty goes beyond voting, said Niketa Greene. Our leaders serve at our pleasure and we need to advocate for what we want. People need to dial in. We need more voices pushing for change. We can ask for courageous leadership.
It is About All of Us. We can advocate to our representatives. We can choose to support minority businesses. We can get involved as mentors to share the expertise we have. We can connect with people of all races, creating new networks, social capital, and trust. Danny Brown, who makes an effort to connect with neighbors of all races, said: When we have in-depth conversations with our neighbors, we find that we have more in common than imagined.
In summary, the panel suggests that Greensboro can shift an embedded system that hinders minority business success. It begins with greater awareness and intentionality to create change. The indicators are that we have a growing consensus for creating this change. We now need to shift practices to enable small, local, and minority businesses to gain a foothold and gain ground. Panelists highlighted that this extends beyond policy changes, which are important, to building networks that foster trust, share expertise, make referrals, and provide advocacy. We all have a role to play. In the end, expanding equity, opportunity, and inclusion will create a more economically vibrant city that will benefit us all.
Greensboro Equity Fund: https://cfgg.org/initiatives/black-investments-in-greensboro-equity-fund/
The Black Pages: https://issuu.com/kivanter/docs/the_black_pages_usa_2015-2016_triad