Communities

Working with our neighbors to build a strong community

USC program serves as a blueprint for helping small businesses

Bridges to Business Participants

By Robert A. Annibale and Craig Keys

Small businesses are the backbone of the communities they serve — and the majority of jobs created across the country are the result of local entrepreneurs. With historically high rates of long-term unemployment, making sure small businesses thrive is one of the most important things we can do to promote job creation. Fortunately, cities like Los Angeles have stepped up to the plate, serving as a case study for other municipalities who want to create opportunities for small businesses to grow and expand.

Los Angeles is home to more than 466,000 minority-owned small businesses — the largest concentration in the nation — bringing in more than $125 billion in revenue and employing more than 550,000 individuals. According to the Minority Business Development Agency, between 2002 and 2007, minority-owned firms outpaced the growth of non-minority firms in gross receipts and employment across the country.

Minority- and women-owned firms have been creating jobs with paid employment — growing by 24 percent from 4.7 million to 5.8 million over the same time period. These small businesses are, therefore, integral to both national and local economic growth; however, they often lack the know-how or training needed to successfully apply for and win government and private sector contracts. Take Ella Neely, for example, who grew up in the Los Angeles area and has been a resident there for more than four decades.

When Ella was working on infrastructure projects for a private Los Angeles firm, it didn’t take her long to realize that there were only a few women out there booking business for their own companies. The year was 2002, and Ella decided to take her fate into her own hands and founded Emac Construction, Inc.

The company’s motto is perfect for a business like hers: “Construction and Redesign with a Feminine Touch.” Just like the owners of other small businesses in Los Angeles, Ella is in business to earn a living — and we need to do our part to empower such minority and women-owned businesses to succeed.

That’s where a program called “Bridges to Business Success” (B2BS) helped Ella achieve her goals. Now in its third year, Bridges to Business Success is a partnership between Citi Community Development, USC and the city of Los Angeles. The program, administered by the Minority Business Development Agency Business Center (MBDA) of Los Angeles and operated by USC, trains and provides technical assistance, including minority certification, to allow contractors to compete effectively for government and private contracts.

Since participating in Bridges to Business Success, Ella has hired two additional employees and added $200,000 in revenue to her bottom line. In just two years since it was founded, Bridges to Business Success participants have obtained 209 construction contracts valued at $11.2 million, created more than 400 new jobs and secured more than $600,000 in capital financing. In addition, they have rehabilitated 25 homes for purchase by first-time buyers of low-to-moderate income.

Small businesses provide the goods and services we depend upon, but more importantly, they are a necessary creator of local jobs and serve as the glue that holds neighborhoods together. The USC, MBDA, Citi Community Development and the city developed a program that provides small businesses with access to contracts to drive economic development. As other cities learn from and follow this blueprint of private, public and nonprofit collaboration, it will create local jobs and revitalize neighborhoods — and most importantly, ensure the small business community is stronger than ever.

Robert A. Annibale is global director of Citi Community Development and Microfinance. Craig Keys is associate senior vice president of Civic Engagement at USC.

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