Springfield agency looks to launch program to help underserved businesses

Action hinges on approval of $1 million federal grant.

Springfield’s Small Business Development Center is looking to team with other organizations in the city to better assist and support traditionally underserved business owners and entrepreneurs.

The agency has applied for a $1 million grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration. If awarded, the money would be used over a two-year period to support the Community Navigator Pilot Program.

That program would see the SBDC partnering with nine grass roots organizations in Springfield and allow for each to create a paid position to connect with business owners.

“Those jobs, their sole purpose then is to go and create more jobs by basically connecting socially and economically disadvantaged business owners with the resources that are out there to help them,” said Rob Alexander, executive director of the SBDC in Springfield.

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Alexander said some of those business owners or budding entrepreneurs may not realize those resources are available.

Another barrier could be a lack of trust or fear that they will not be treated with respect or dignity. '

Working with those businesses and making them stronger can in turn lead to more jobs created in the city in the future, Alexander added.

Those hired as a result of the grant will operate as community navigators. They would be in charge of reaching out to and connecting with primarily minority business owners as well as those who operate in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods.

Alexander said one organization that would receive money, if the grant is awarded, is 1159 South Community Development, which serves residents in Springfield’s south side.

That organization does not have paid employees and the grant money would allow it to hire or contract someone.

Grass roots organizations involved with the pilot program would receive between $50,000 to $100,000 during the two-year period if the grant is awarded to the SBDC.

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The SBDC would also be creating an additional position that would be in charge of coordinating those new community navigators.

The pilot program also seeks to build upon already established relationships and work being done by city grass roots organizations.

Alexander said that allows the SBDC to work with organizations already embedded in communities that his agency has traditionally had a tougher time reaching.

The new positions would work on pointing those entrepreneurs to resources offered by the SBDC that can also help them grow and sustain their businesses and eventually lead to more job growth.

Alexander said it also allows his agency to reach some businesses and entrepreneurs who have flown under the radar and as a result have not had access to federal relief money.

He said the goal is to also work on improving the amount of jobs created in those communities as well as access to capital.

The SBDC applied for the grant Friday and the Small Business Administration is hoping for those pilot programs to launch in October.

Alexander said the hope is if the program proves successful there will be more funding opportunities in the future in order to sustain it.

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