Central Arkansas is a target market in U.S. Bank's efforts to create more opportunities for Black-owned businesses in the region and across the state.
Little Rock is just one of nine cities where the bank has established an Access Commitment program, which was set up in 2021 and last year the effort contributed $321 million in capital to Black-owned businesses nationwide. Bank officials declined to provide specific figures for Arkansas, saying contributions are not broken down by location.
Cassandra Kidd is the Little Rock adviser in charge of deploying the bank's Arkansas program, which focuses primarily on Central Arkansas, though the bank has dedicated resources and funding available across the state. The initiative's mission is to knock down barriers to building wealth for Black small-business owners by opening more avenues to financial services, credit and education.
"As a banker, my role also is to talk about access to capital," Kidd says. "We talk to them not only about getting the capital, but what you do when you get the capital. The ultimate goal is to help that business create one more job."
To achieve that, Kidd leads local efforts by partnering with entrepreneurial support organizations and non-profits like the Women's Foundation of Arkansas that provide funding and other key resources to support minority-business development and growth.
Little Rock is the smallest metro area offering the program, which is found primarily in major cities such as Chicago, Charlotte, Denver, Los Angeles and Minneapolis/St. Paul, which is home to the bank's headquarters.
On the lending side, Kidd acts as a facilitator to connect Black business owners with U.S. Bank lenders and point them to organizations in the community that can provide additional resources and technical support. She also works with business owners who are not lender ready and need to connect with resources to enhance their efforts to attract financing.
"I work with them to get ready," she said. "A business owner's dream should not end in the parking lot of a bank."
In 2022, the U.S. Small Business Administration named U.S. Bank as the equity advancement leader in the state with the largest percentage of small-business loans to Black-owned companies.
Kidd coordinates and partners with other groups dedicated to advancing Black business ownership in the region such as ReMix Ideas and the Rock It! Lab, entrepreneurial support organizations in Little Rock. She also has strengthened relationships with groups like the Women's Foundation, which has programs to enhance economic equity for women and people of color.
"One of the reasons the program was established is to address the wealth gap in the Black community as it relates to entrepreneurship," she said. "We help Black small-business owners sustain and grow their businesses."
Community outreach efforts have expanded to the Arkansas Delta region and soon will include the Northwest Arkansas corridor.
For example, Kidd participated in a recent ReMix bus tour of the Delta and soon will head to the Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers corridor for four days. "We get firsthand knowledge of the challenges facing these entrepreneurs and identifying the resources we can pull together to help them get over the hump," she said.
Beyond promoting Black-business ownership, U.S. Bank is looking for more opportunities to help Black entrepreneurs build wealth and close the equity gap with white communities. "The bank is looking to grow this role to also address other segments of society where there are wealth gaps as well," Kidd said.
U.S. Bank, based in Minneapolis, is the nation's fifth-largest financial institution with more than $600 billion in assets.
EXPERT ADVICE AVAILABLE
Beginning Tuesday, small business owners and entrepreneurs can tap into a network of advisers who can provide mentoring services and other support to help the companies grow and succeed through the Conductor Connect initiative.
The Conductor, an entrepreneurial support organization in Conway, will set up a free network of subject matter experts offering advice in sales, marketing, app development, general business, leadership and business strategy.
Each month, the roster of experts will have appointment-based office hours at the Arnold Innovation Center on the University of Central Arkansas campus to provide face-to-face feedback.
"We believe Conductor Connect will be a vital resource for area businesses," said Grace Rains, executive director of Conductor. "We know that entrepreneurs are more likely to be successful when they have access to top-tier expertise, but often cannot afford to pay experts for their time. So, we've put together a roster of experts that we will continue to grow in the future to provide valuable insights and guidance to businesses at no cost, eliminating barriers to success."
Experts will provide one-off support or advice and mentorship on an ongoing basis to help business owners overcome challenges, seize opportunities and achieve business goals.
More information is available at arconductor.org/conductorconnect.
LOOKING FOR A SIDE HUSTLE?
Arkansans looking to develop a side hustle can find help Wednesday through the Arkansas Small Business Technology and Development Center.
The organization is holding an hourlong session from 6-7 p.m. -- both in person and online -- at The Generator in Pine Bluff, 435 S. Main St.
The no-cost session will offer tips on developing a business plan and the best ways to get a business up and running. Eyona Mitchell, a business specialist with the technology and development center, will lead the discussion.
A side hustle is doing something to earn extra money -- sometimes a second job but usually an entrepreneurial activity.
More information and registration details are available at asbtdc.org.
CENTRAL ARKANSAS ENTREPRENEURS WANTED
The Little Rock Venture Center and the Regional Chamber of Commerce have opened the application process for small business owners in Central Arkansas seeking mentoring and other resources to help them grow their operations.
Tech start-ups can sign up now for the 10-week Spark! Accelerator initiative, which begins in May. Registration is open through April 1. Applicants will be required to pitch their businesses to a selection committee in April to qualify for the accelerator.
Spark! participants will be required to attend weekly meetings from 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. every Wednesday from May 3-July 12.
The initiative includes a mentoring program and provides structured sessions to identify key tasks and objectives the businesses can develop and improve to meet their growth goals. More information is available at venturecenter.co.
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