A community engagement forum hosted on Friday by the Historically Underutilized Businesses coalition and its partners focused on providing encouragement to minority business owners, businesspeople and the community that resources are available to help them overcome obstacles.
Partnering with HUB to make Friday’s forum, and a similar one held on Saturday, possible were the North Carolina Research & Engagement Group, LLC, and the Warren County Economic Development Coalition. HUB Coalition partners also include the NC Budget and Tax Center, One Step at a Time Consulting, TDA Services, LLC, the North Carolina Department of Transportation, The Institute NC and The Rural Center. Among NCREG’s founding members is Warren County native Dr. Tanya Ayscue of TDA Services, LLC, which provides business management and consulting services.
The foundation of NCREG, and efforts such as the weekend forums, grew out of a university class project that, among other areas, identified trends involving poverty and education level among people of various racial and ethnic backgrounds.
Research presented by Dr. William Munn, senior policy analyst with the Health Advocacy Project, indicated that in 1860, when Warren County was among the wealthiest counties in North Carolina, the population was comprised of 10,400 enslaved Africans and 5,325 free people.
He told those attending that 161 years later, Warren County is among the most economically distressed counties in the state. Munn added that today’s trends show that areas with the highest poverty rates in Warren County and elsewhere also tend to be areas with larger populations of African-Americans and other minority groups. Ayscue noted that per capita income in Warren County has increased from $19,000 several years ago, but remains low today, at $23,432.
However, the university class project that identified those trends also inspired the partnership that became the HUB Coalition. That research continues to fuel the partners’ efforts to help people overcome obstacles and achieve success for themselves and their businesses.
Tammie Hall of the NC Department of Administration’s HUB office said that the state’s definition of Historically Underutilized Businesses reflects a broad portion of North Carolina’s population, meaning that many people are eligible for services: African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, American Indians, women, the disabled and the disadvantaged.
She indicated that the HUB Office works to connect business owners, entrepreneurs and business people with resources that will enable them to obtain business development services, certification and training. Hall added that HUB has developed grant opportunities as part of its continued mission to address concerns such as limited funding resources available to minorities and women who operated businesses.
Tunya Smith of the NC Department of Transportation, noted that DOT, especially through its Office of Civil Rights, offers a Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Program and a number of other services geared toward businesses and individuals. Resources address a range of needs such as business development, mentor programs and training. She said that services are available for people recently released from prison who seek the skills necessary to build better futures. Other resources are geared toward providing high school graduates who may not be able to attend college with tools to build successful careers.
Smith and several other forum participants emphasized the need to make community residents aware of resources already available, especially as they are working to recover from the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In many cases, community leaders can also connect businesspeople with resources to assist them, she added.
“I hear it from senior leaders: ‘Tell me what to do, not what you want me to do,’” she said.
Dr. Forrest D. Toms, another founding member of NCREG, agreed. He called upon community residents, county governments and school systems to work together to improve business life in their towns, cities and counties. He expressed optimism for the future.
“We need to get people together, large and small,” he said. “Groups need to work together to develop a plan. People need to come back together.”
For more information about the North Carolina Research & Engagement Group, LLC, visit ncreg.org. For more information about Historically Underutilized Businesses, visit ncadmin.nc.gov, click on Businesses and see the heading Historically Underutilized Businesses.