By Hayleigh Colombo | Columbus Business First
The Short North Alliance wants to boost the number of businesses owned by women, minorities, and the LBGTQ+ community.
“When you take into consideration all of the growth we’ve experienced in the Short North Arts District, we’ve seen stagnation” among businesses owned by marginalized groups, said Betsy Pandora, executive director of the Short North Alliance. “That’s an issue.”
Since 2015, about 12% of the more than 320 businesses in the Short North are owned by people of color; 33% are owned by women; about 9% are owned by those who identify as LGBTQ+, and 6% are owned by immigrants or New Americans.
“We see this as an incredible, unique, and powerful opportunity to reverse those trends of stagnation and provide opportunities so historically marginalized business owners have great access” to the Short North, Pandora said.
Increasing both the attraction and long-term retention of a diverse group of business owners is part of Short North Alliance’s overall plan to improve “inclusion, diversity, equity and access” in the district. The organization is looking at a variety of approaches and soliciting feedback from community stakeholders.
“We have made it our priority to be bold and vocal leaders in advancing that,” Pandora said. “It’s really about elevating and bringing power to this entire conversation. I think we have lots of ideas, but ultimately we need to hear from the community about what the community wants needs, and values.”
Another issue, Pandora said, is that minority-owned businesses tend to face higher rates of closure, something that has been exacerbated by the pandemic. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that Black-owned businesses were hit harder by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Pandora said her organization is trying to “get to some true understanding of the root causes of what prohibits a historically marginalized group from entering the Short North, or (making it to) the critical third birthday.”
“Is there a belief that maybe the Short North is an impenetrable market? Is it because we’ve previously had such low rates of availability and vacancy? It could be the fact that there’s been no formalized recruitment strategy,” Pandora said. “I think our organization wants to know the answers to those questions and more than anything wants to help find solutions.”
In addition, Pandora said, the group is exploring business incubator programs, grant programs, more formalized mentorship, and support structures as well as more engagement with landlords.
“We have no role in dictating what a landlord can do,” she said. However, “we have an incredible opportunity to give people information.”
The Short North Alliance will add additional website resources to make it easy to see what space is available for lease, contact information for landlords, and market factors that could help disadvantaged business owners with their business plans.
“Maybe part of what is necessary is incredibly intentional and thoughtful outreach,” Pandora said. “That hopefully levels the playing field and allows folks to have an easier opportunity for the formation of their business.”
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