Economic network

CDCs are an essential part of a neighborhood network for small businesses

Cleveland’s Community Development Corporations (CDCs) are “on-the-ground boots” for small businesses, offering programs, services, and activities designed to promote neighborhood improvement. Continuing this metaphor, the CDC cannot succeed without a network of organizations that join them in the march toward economic progress, their proponents argue.

Jasmine Dixon, Vice President of Business Growth Development for the Institute of Economic and Community Development“We all bring something different to the table,” says Jasmine Dixon, vice president of business growth development for the Economic and Community Development Institute (ECDI). “When it comes to building the economy, we need to do things collaboratively. We cannot operate in silos.

ECDI, a CDC-certified small business resource center, recently launched its entrepreneur-friendly SetUpShop partnership in two Cleveland neighborhoods. By promoting SetUpShop alongside the City of Cleveland, ECDI provides local startups with training, access to capital, and a low-risk opportunity to test their concepts.

The first cohorts focus on residents of the Glenville and Buckeye-Shaker neighborhoods. As a partner, the Famicos Foundation provides access to a local farmers market from where emerging businesses can sell their wares. Owners will operate from pop-up locations, then be replaced after six months by a new group of dream seekers.

ECDI is also partnering with CDC Buckeye-Shaker to help small businesses impacted by Opportunity Corridor construction. The larger goal of SetUpShop is to open up shared spaces that owners develop themselves. However, reaching these startups requires an ongoing relationship with local CDCs, Dixon says.

“The CDC has such a command of their individual neighborhoods and are able to tell us what’s there,” Dixon says. “Every time we go to a community, I ask who the CDC is there.”

Create connections
Metro West CDC covers three neighborhoods with large Latin American populations – the Stockyards, Clark-Fulton, and Brooklyn Center. In its support of these communities, Metro West provides financing for exterior improvements and rental assistance, while connecting landlords with various loan and grant opportunities.

Links to the Hispanic Business Center and JumpStart are additional benefits of the CDC-startup partnership, notes Metro West Economic Development Director Nick de Leon. For example, the organization provided Quisqueya La Bella restaurant in Brooklyn Center with rental assistance. A connection to JumpStart, meanwhile, helped the restaurant acquire its current Clark Avenue location.

“We help businesses with grant applications as well as throughout the city application process, but will refer them to a business support organization with certified advisors when it comes to establishing finances” , explains de Leon.

Cleveland Fresh is a local company that grows local micro-vegetables within 10-20 days, then cuts, washes and harvests them for orders.Metro West pointed Tanisha Velez, owner of Cleveland Fresh, to community gardens early in her entrepreneurial career. Until recently, Velez’s microgreen startup also had a dedicated space under the Tremont Storefront Incubator program.

Today, Velez operates from her home in Cleveland’s Jefferson neighborhood, growing fresh take-out produce on LED-lit shelves in her dining room. Armed with a $15,000 grant from Cleveland Neighborhood Progress (CNP), Velez recently hired an assistant to help plan her activities.

Although appreciative of Cleveland’s development ecosystem, Velez would have liked more early support in crafting a specially tailored business plan. She would also appreciate more transparency about how CDC prioritizes funding for startups and other business acceleration opportunities. Ultimately, she wants all underserved populations to have a chance to build wealth in their own backyards.

“Injecting money into a community gives people hope,” says Velez. “People will want to spend money and hire other members of the community. I never thought I would play with dirt; I thought I was in a factory. My business is about connecting people to nature.

Tap into the network
Reggie Jefferson, a Cleveland native, credits a vital network of business-centric sources with launching his independent waste hauling business. Jefferson tapped an $8,000 grant from the Business Growth Collaborative, a multi-partner effort that disbursed approximately $200,000 to 40 minority-owned businesses in northeast Ohio in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

A former employee of a Cleveland garbage collection company, Reggie Jefferson started the hauling company called The Trash Team.Jefferson used those dollars to fix two trucks that now pick up trash from various customers — restaurants, retailers, and basically anyone who needs their dumpster emptied. A former employee of the Cleveland Republic Services garbage collection company, Jefferson started the hauling business four years ago, naming it The Trash Team.

“After 25 years in the business, I realized that I was as close to an expert as I could get,” says Jefferson, who runs the business from his home in Macedonia, while storing his vehicles in a depot of Cleveland. “So, I went ahead, did my homework and figured out how to get started.”

Although knowledgeable about the industry, Jefferson always needed a head start on how to start a business. He turned to CNP, receiving critical relationships with funding as well as clients with multiple establishments.

“[CNP director of workforce development] Sheri Dozier held my hand and helped me,” says Jefferson. “Getting these connections has helped my residual business snowball.”

With 20% year-over-year growth, Jefferson is on the hunt for an additional driver, a position the booming businessman hopes to fill by late spring. While asking for help isn’t easy, Jefferson is happy to have his connections with the Cleveland CDC.

“At first I had no help – I dipped into my savings and went to Virginia to buy my first truck,” says Jefferson. “Getting the grant was great and getting in touch with specific businesses that needed my help was even better than the funding.”

This story is part of FreshWater’s series, Community Development Connection, in partnership with Cleveland Neighborhood Progress and Cleveland Development Advisors. The series aims to showcase the work of 29 Community Development Corporations (CDCs) as well as explore the efforts of neighborhood organizations, leaders and residents who are focused on advancing their communities during a time of unchallenged previous.