City Council funds underrepresented businesses
Prosper Portland's programs for underrepresented business owners is now fully funded for FY 2018-2019 after a unanimous City Council vote of approval.
In support of Prosper Portland's grants, Business for a Better Portland submitted a letter to Mayor Wheeler and the Council, which was signed by 125 local businesses — and it's the first time the business community has put forth such a letter on behalf of Prosper Portland's budget, according to Bobby Lee, director of economic development.
"Over 100 business signed on to the letter and really tried to influence the budget process in ways we've never seen before," Lee told the Business Tribune. "We had TAO and BBPDX and other groups seeing the merit of the kind of work we're trying to do around inclusive hiring and inclusionary small business support, and they really got on board and created a social media campaign and got people to sign on to the letter and testify at the City Council budget process."
"Business ownership drives much of the disparity in multigenerational wealth," the letter read. "Research shows that gains in employment and income show little progress in erasing these differences."
It's important to fund underrepresented businessowners who face invisible barriers because, as a recent study from the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis found, the median white family held 10 times as much net wealth as the median black family, and more than eight times as much wealth as the median Latino family in 2016.
"We have the Inclusive Business Resources Network (IBRN). That program is about supporting entrepreneurs and small business owners of color and women," Lee said. "All the way from start-ups to scaling business in all different sectors, that program is designed to provide technical assistance, access to capital and mentorship — that program will be expanded through these new additional funds from the City."
Prosper Portland's requested budget for FY 2018-19 includes its financial summary, program narratives that request money from the general fund, a summary of urban renewal and other funds, a budget equity assessment and the Prosper Portland fee structure.
The total requested budget is $228 million for FY 2018-19.
"The City contributes general funds to Prosper Portland's overall budget, and the overall budget includes general funds and also predominantly TIF (tax increment financing) dollars," Lee told the Tribune. "They voted on the total budget, but the majority of the debate is over the general fund."
Prosper Portland's general fund request includes $5.3 million in ongoing funding divided between Traded Sector and Neighborhood Economic Development activities with targeted reductions aimed at 5 percent.
"In order to build an equitable economy, we also need to get the private sector involved," Lee said. "The additional money we got is for the Traded Sector Inclusive Business Growth. The Mayor funded it and the City Council unanimously voted to help the private sector hire locally, hire people of color and women into key positions, and getting youth into internships — it's mostly targeted for youth of color."
The Traded Sector Inclusive Business Growth budget includes $108,500 in one-time resources. The first $50,000 will establish an inclusive innovation fund to provide small business grants, and the remainder will fund internships and apprenticeships for youth from underrepresented backgrounds.
This is a new area for Prosper Portland, but the new funding allows it to expand its work solving workforce inequities.
"We have tech companies in Portland come together and do a pledge around hiring people of color into key positions," Lee said. "We try to do that in multiple sectors with programs we already have in place, in clusters, in trade sector groups, to try to help achieve this larger goal around building an equitable economy."
The requested budget also includes $1.8 million in five add-package requests, all aimed to further implement Prosper Portland's 2015-2020 strategic plan.
"We'll now have more resources to expand that (private sector tech hiring pledge) and do other industry clusters," Lee said.
The general fund dollars have flexibility that the TIF funds do not — TIF funds are exclusively used in the area they were generated to reinvest in urban renewal areas.
"They enable Prosper Portland to invest in areas Prosper Portland might not traditionally be able to work in citywide," said Shawn Uhlman, a Prosper Portland spokesperson.
Prosper Portland's total budget is divided across three business lines — Economic Development, Infrastructure and Property Redevelopment — for all funding sources that include major redevelopment and economic development activities, lending programs and grant programs.
"Four different items highlight what we're trying to do here at Prosper Portland with our new mission," Lee said. "One is small business growth: a lot of startups in Portland need to scale, are not in a position to scale, and this helps small businesses to scale."
There's the Small Business Growth Program ($275,000), Small Business Technical Assistance Tax and Financial Support ($100,000), Traded Sector Inclusive Business Growth, ($108,500) and the My People's Market ($100,000), an expansion of Mercatus. Salt & Straw ice cream is one example of a successful Portland startup that used help from these programs, and last year's mercatus featured more than 80 businesses and drew more than 1,000 attendees. The web-based platform designed to connect entrepreneurs of color and expand businesses by creating a network through which businesses can gain new clients and services.
"The business community that came out in support of this really deserves a lot of credit," Lee said.
Prosper Portland is in a period of transition as it moves from an organization funded primarily with urban renewal resources (i.e. tax increment financing) to a proposed diverse mix of funding sources. It uses City funds to support 10 urban renewal areas (URAs), six neighborhood prosperity initiatives (NPIs), workforce development, business technical assistance and trade sector industry expansion.
"Our brand change to Prosper Portland has really focused much of our resources and our business delivery around inclusive business and economic related programs," Lee said. "Building on an equitable economy is our mission, so much of our budget request this cycle was centered around programs in alignment with that."
By Jules Rogers
Reporter, The Business Tribune
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