The Chester County Economic Development Council has approved a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Strategic Plan comprising input from more than 50 community and business leaders, as well as new programs focused on strengthening minority- and women-owned businesses in Chester County.
The plan, which was approved by CCEDC’s Board of Directors, was formulated over the last year by CCEDC’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Task Force. It includes a culturally inclusive communications strategy; internal training for staff and board; establishing a business support office in Coatesville, a historically underserved community; and developing a loan program that prioritizes lending for minority- and women-owned businesses.
“We recognize the obstacles that underrepresented populations have long faced when it comes to access to capital, connections to businesses and mentorship and training opportunities,” said CCEDC President Gary Smith. “CCEDC is committed to working with industry partners and community leaders to create a system of comprehensive support and access in Chester County.”
Among the new initiatives is creation of a micro loan program targeted for launch by Fall 2022, to prioritize lending to minority- and women-owned businesses. CCEDC is also exploring the feasibility of becoming a certified Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), which specializes in providing financial services to distressed communities and people who lack access to financing.
“This is particularly crucial for supporting minority-owned businesses that need capital to make their business plan a reality for themselves and their investors, and who may also be seeking commercial leases or ownership to grow their businesses. Access to such funding opportunities may seem like a ‘given’ for many, but that has never been the case in the minority business community,” said Gregory Reaves, founder and co-owner of Mosaic Development Partners.
Reaves is a founding member of CCEDC’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Task Force as well as a long-time partner with CCEDC in securing real estate for minority-owned enterprises.
CCEDC has also launched a pilot program called New Business Champions, funded in part by the Chester County Workforce Development Board. Oversubscribed since its launch in February, New Business Champions offers thousands of dollars in free services to help businesses averaging 1 to 8 employees develop critical entrepreneurial skills in accounting, marketing, HR, legal and more.
Awardees are now receiving a comprehensive business-needs assessment with program staff before working one-on-one with qualified experts in a wide range of industries. Underrepresented businesses were given priority during the application process, with 51 businesses being served including 26 minority-owned businesses, 23 women-owned businesses, seven run by business owners without a college degree, and seven business owners who started a company after experiencing prolonged unemployment.
Nineteen of the businesses served are from the City of Coatesville, with discussions underway with partners in southern Chester County for the next phase of the program.
Working with CCEDC’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Task Force, CCEDC Culture, Equality, and Leadership Consultant Marrea Walker-Smith has been key to supporting the organization through the research and strategic planning process for these new initiatives.
“This is just the beginning of our work to reduce systemic disadvantages that prevent equal support and access to economic opportunity,” said Walker-Smith.