“With this one-time infusion of cash, how can we capitalize on that opportunity to grow those businesses, help them to be sustainable?” said Deputy City Manager LaShea Lofton. “Not just to give them money and help them buy equipment, but really focus on helping them understand that there is an ecosystem that can support them from beginning to end no matter where they are in the continuum, so that they can get an anchor here in our community and contribute to the economic redevelopment that’s taking place throughout the city.”
Lofton is overseeing the $7.6 million effort, which includes creating a new small and minority-owned business support program, grants to nonprofits involved in business development and direct grants to five small businesses. City officials say awarding these funds is still likely weeks out and dollar amounts could change as they conduct thorough eligibility.
Some groups such as the Dayton Unit NAACP are critical that more support didn’t go to minority-owned business.
“Black and brown, minority-owned businesses need assistance. So when we think about them needing assistance, and only receiving 5.6% of the funding, that’s very problematic,” said Dayton Unit NAACP President Derrick Foward in a Dayton Daily News Community Conversation on the topic of ARPA funding last week.
Foward and others are calling for the city to revisit the issue and direct more funding toward such entities.
City officials say their ARPA plan followed a comprehensive community input process and 170 applicants including businesses and non-profits asking for more than $311 million.
Dayton City Manager Shelley Dickstein said in the same Dayton Daily News Community Conversation that two-thirds of the $102 million in targeted projects in the city’s ARPA plan is going to minority and low-income populations — once you subtract $36 million set aside to maintain city services through 2024.
“We’re very proud of the fact that collectively we are driving investments in to areas that need to have investment, that need to have support to grow healthier opportunities for their families, to be able to add amenities,” she said. “And we’re now in the process of implementing on this recovery plan and those planned investments.”
Dayton is the largest local recipient of ARPA funds, which went to every local government in our region, totaling $718.7 million. Many local governments have not budgeted anything toward supporting minority businesses, though some are still deciding what to do with the money.
Racial equity fund
The largest part of the $7.6 million effort is $3 million budgeted for a “racial equity fund” that Lofton said will mostly be used to create a Inclusive Business Opportunity Recovery Center. This will be a partnership with other entities such as the Urban League, the Entrepreneurs Center, the Hub, the Human Relations Council and others.
“We’re basically looking at standing up an independent center that will help all the entities that are in our region that provide services and support or capital to small businesses, to help fuel recovery of businesses that need to get access to those services,” Lofton said.
The center will help not only new business start-ups, but also older businesses needing help recovering, adapting or expanding.
“We’ve got entities and agencies that support businesses in different ways in the city, now we’re trying to figure out how do we get an entity that can thread the needle for all of those services for any business who is trying to figure out which way do I go or how do I start,” she said.
Lofton said the city will first hire a consultant to help officials write a business plan and determine how exactly this center will operate and where it will go.
Another $1.5 million of the ARPA money is budgeted for the Miami Valley Urban League to provide assistance for Black-owned businesses through micro-grants of up to $10,000. The Urban League will also offer business coaching and help with access to programs for women- and minority-owned businesses.
“More than ever, Black businesses need access to both strong business networks and capital, as well as support with skills development,” the Urban League’s application says. “Across the country, communities of color have disproportionately borne the brunt of the coronavirus and its economic consequences.”
Officials will prioritize businesses in west and northwest Dayton, as well as areas impacted by the Memorial Day tornadoes.
“The ultimate goal is to help infuse a sustaining ecosystem that supports Black businesses in the Dayton market,” said Miami Valley Urban League Executive Director Nikol Miller.
$1M for Makerspace
The city has allocated another $1 million to expand the Westside Makerspace, a project of the Greater Dayton Union Cooperative.
The makerspace provides shared space and tools for people to learn hands-on skills ranging from making candles or T-shirts, all the way up to technical skills such as using 3D printers or laser etchers. It opened in February in a temporary 800-square-foot space at the Dayton Metro Library West Branch.
Marcus Smith, one of the project organizers, said the grant will allow them to move into a space 10 times larger. It will stay in west Dayton and serve the predominantly Black community that suffered health and economic setbacks from the pandemic.
“Being able to expand into a much larger space, we can get the larger laser etchers, we can get the 3D printers so we can scale up and have access to equipment to do much larger projects and truly teach people skills that may be able to transfer over to technology and manufacturing jobs,” he said.
They are considering adding a “tool library,” where people can borrow tools such as hammers, drills, power tools and perhaps gardening equipment.
Other non-profit grants
Four other non-profit groups are budgeted to receive funds.
The non-profit OH Taste was awarded $750,000 to help establish a “shared kitchen incubator” at the Dayton Arcade. The initiative is part of a project called 6888 (“Six Triple Eight”) Kitchen at the Arcade that will provide “training, business support resources and commercial kitchen space for under-resourced entrepreneurs developing food businesses,” according to a project overview on the agency’s website.
“We’re not just giving them a place to cook, it really is kind of like an academy for serious food business owners,” said OH Taste founder Charlynda Scales.
Scales said they hope to start building this summer. The project has received more than $1 million in Congressional earmark funding and is working to get more, she said.
The city’s ARPA plan budgets $300,000 for NPower Dayton to “establish a physical hub of technology workforce training and job placement in an underserved community, to help low-income people of color launch new upwardly-mobile mid-income careers in technology,” according to the agency’s application.
NPower is a national non-profit based in New York that currently has no operations in Dayton. NPower Ohio was registered with the Ohio Secretary of State in November. Their application says the national organization has been in operation since 2000.
“We have a proven model which we know could be a benefit to the community of Dayton,” said Felecia Webb, NPower vice president of philanthropy.
The Conscious Connect received a grant to support a project turning blighted houses, vacant lots and abandoned properties into neighborhood “pocket parks” in the Westwood, Miami Chapel and Five Oaks neighborhoods. It will also upgrade parks in Residence Park and Dayton View. The non-profit received $250,000.
The city awarded On Purpose Academy and Mentoring Center $150,000 to create a “pop-up preschool” on wheels that can provide quality preschool to up to a dozen kids at a time in areas where families have limited access to preschool. Owner Kimberly Jarvis calls them “preschool deserts.” She said she has the teachers, and the money will help buy vehicles.
“If you don’t fix that problem of access, we have a perpetual cycle of poverty,” she said.
Mobile vaccine clinic
The largest grant to a for-profit business is $200,000 for Ace Healthy Products to operate a mobile vaccine clinic and promote vaccinations in the minority community.
Ace Healthy Products is a Dayton-based company owned by Anthony Watson, a registered nurse who invented eco-friendly pesticide. He said that the COVID-19 pandemic caused him to use his healthcare experience and pivot his business to public health.
“I noticed that people were getting help in these big clinics, like for instance at the convention center, but nobody was addressing the underserved communities, the Hispanic community, the people who were homeless,” he said.
With support from Central State University and state and local health agencies, he started offering a mobile clinic. He said the ARPA grant will allow him to continue doing that.
“We know the pandemic is not going away,” he said. “We want to stay out there as long as we can.”
Shifting resources, power
Another $178,100 was allocated to Chicken Head’s, a carryout and delivery restaurant relocating to North Main Street. The company’s application says it will provide good-paying jobs in a majority-Black area.
“It’s more than a restaurant,” said business owner and chef Anthony Head. “One of the things that I’m most proud of is we want to serve as kind of a gem to that gateway to the North Main Street business district.”
The popular chicken sandwich restaurant originally opened in 2019 on Siebenthaler Avenue but has been closed since February 2021 after Head’s former business partner allegedly vandalized the business and stole equipment. A civil lawsuit over the matter was settled in April.
Head purchased the former Quincy’s Chicken restaurant at 865 N. Main Street in December for $330,000, according to property records. He said renovations there are underway and he hopes to reopen in about four months. In addition to fixing up the building, they are converting the basement into a commercial kitchen that partnering businesses can use for retail production.
“That’s one of the biggest challenges for small business, especially minority-owned small businesses in this community, is that we don’t own the buildings so we find ourselves leasing from these less-than-desirable landlords,” he said. “Ghettos aren’t created by the tenants, they are created by the landlords who don’t live in the community and don’t keep those assets up.”
If Head gets the city ARPA money, he will have received more than $1 million in grants and loans through state and federal COVID relief programs. He received $445,795 from the federal Restaurant Revitalization fund last year, at least $42,819 in Payroll Protection Program loans, $367,600 from the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program and $40,000 from state business and restaurant relief grants.
Chicken Head’s also signed a lease to open a “ghost kitchen” on Dorothy Lane in Kettering, which chef Head expects to open for delivery and later carryout sooner in coordination with a couple local kitchens.
Head said the government COVID relief programs are a huge help for first generation Black business owners like him who don’t have access to the relationships and funding others might have.
“At the end of the day it’s shifting those resources and the balance of power back to minority business owners, which historically have been disenfranchised. Getting this amount of capital is almost impossible,” he said. “You see from this application there’s only a couple of for-profit organizations to get it. Think about how many thousands of minority-owned businesses are in this community, who are essentially sharecroppers. We all lease, we can never get enough resources to make capital investments.”
Hoping for ‘Rebound’
Third Perk Coffeehouse is budgeted to get $82,400 to help the downtown coffee shop open a carryout and catering kitchen at 3907 W. Third St.
Business owner Juanita Darden said she hopes to open the new location, called Soul Food Carryout, in mid-July. She said it will create a dozen jobs, bring life back to a vacant building and offer the community another, healthy dining option.
Darden recently received $50,000 from the city’s West Dayton Development Trust Fund for the same project. She also got $95,484 from the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, $40,000 from a similar state program, $16,000 from EIDL and $11,800 from PPP.
Third Perk closed during the pandemic and reopened in December 2020 in a new location in the Fireblocks District. Darden said her business likely wouldn’t have survived without that aid, but they don’t want to keep relying on grants.
“It’s been very rough. People look for us to be a supporter of the community, but to be able to support the community we need to be a viable business that’s being supported by the community,” she said. “Drink coffee from Third Perk. Come and have lunch sometime.
“We’re really hoping to have this turnaround, and rebound.”
Speedie Daycare in the Wright Dunbar neighborhood is expected to get $75,000 from the city’s ARPA plan. Business owner Gladys Williams said this will allow her to expand from a home-based daycare with 12 kids to a larger center that can take nearly three times that number.
“That’s really going to give those children and families more quality care, and that’s needed in childcare,” she said.
Williams said 95 percent of the families she serves are Black, and in addition to providing children quality care, expanding the center will allow more families with children to go to school and work.
Speedie Daycare also received $41,040 in PPP and EIDL.
The Nalls Law Group, a Dayton law firm, is set to get $41,400 to upgrade its videoconferencing abilities to help it continue to serve populations that were disproportionally affected by COVID, according to its application. A firm representative didn’t return messages seeking comment.
The law firm got $16,100 from EIDL and PPP.
Process ‘confusing, rushed, detrimental’
Darden was dismayed to learn so few minority-owned businesses received direct aid in the city’s ARPA plan. She said one factor was likely that the application process was confusing.
“I think it’s very important, if our goal is to support disadvantaged businesses, then we have to provide applications that are reflected to help disenfranchised, disadvantaged businesses who may not have the wherewithal to complete those applications,” she said. “I just wish there was a better way for them to be served.”
Community member Jo Cooley-Love said worthwhile projects were shut out of the application process because the system was unnecessarily cumbersome and rushed. She feels city leaders only pretended to take in community input before deciding to spend ARPA money the way they wanted to, pointing out that the $10.5 million the city set aside for improving city facilities is more than the total amount invested in minority businesses.
“How is that changing systemic issues?” she said. “There’s no feasible, logical reason why that would get so much money.”
Foward last week reiterated a letter the NAACP sent to the city in October saying the city’s process was “confusing, overly rushed, and detrimental to the very people it is intending to assist.” They called for the due date to be pushed back — noting the city has through 2026 to spend the money — and changes to be made to help smaller entities with less grant writing experience qualify.
“We can open the doors up for other individuals to apply,” Foward said.