KC wins grant to boost minority-owned business through public contracts

Kansas City, Missouri, pocketed a major win for the entrepreneurial community Wednesday, becoming one of 10 cities in the nation to be selected for the City Accelerator initiative for inclusive contract procurement.

The city will receive a $50,000 grant from the Citi Foundation and Living Cities to increase opportunities for firms owned by people of color in Kansas City to secure public contracts across the region and the nation, according to a press release.

Esra England, who opened his KC Cajun catering business out of Independence’s Ennovation Center two years ago, said he is likely to take advantage of the universal contract procurement program.

“City contracts are very good for businesses like mine because they provide opportunities for income and growth,” said England, who now also operates a food truck.

With construction underway at Kansas City International Airport, KC Cajun is likely to obtain a city contract to serve construction workers at the airport, said Gabe Muñoz, director of sales at the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Greater Kansas City.

Opportunities for wealth

Uneven distribution of city contracts among businesses historically has isolated entrepreneurs of color, said Nia Richardson, assistant to the director of small business and entrepreneurship at the KC BizCare office, where she works to help early businesses with certificates and licenses.

The grant will help bridge racial gaps in wealth and income in the city, she said.

“Kansas City is on a quest to become the most entrepreneurial city in America,” Richardson said, “but we have to make sure that we have opportunities for everyone.”

Statistics currently suggest a reality that clashes with the city’s aspirations, she said. Kansas City ranked 49th among the 50 largest U.S. metro areas in terms of opportunities for minority-owned businesses, according to a study published this year by LendingTree, an online lending marketplace.

“The biggest challenge (for minority-owned businesses) is access to funds and education,” England said.

Securing racial equity for businesses

Richardson noticed most of the minority-owned businesses located on the outskirts of Kansas City were able to be certified as a minority- or women-owned business by KC BizCare to receive city contracts, but the same was not true of businesses located in the city, she said.

Just a few weeks into her new job at KC BizCare, Richardson was invited to enter Kansas City — for the second time — into the race for the inclusion grant. She rushed to file an application within two weeks, she said.

With the help of Chris Douglas and Spencer Ellsperman at ACAUDI Productions, the KC BizCare office prepared and submitted a video pitch and three-page interest letter to compete against other cities for the grant, Richardson said.

“We’re trying to make sure that we’re addressing the needs of all entrepreneur types. … This is another example of our city is identifying issues that are affecting small business growth in the community,” said Rick Usher, Kansas City’s assistant city manager for entrepreneurship and small business.

The City Accelerator initiative also is expected to allocate resources like coaching, technical assistance and tools to sculpt economic development in the city.

“There is no single solution to increasing racial equity in a community, which is why we’re working together with the private sector to place equity at the center of all our efforts to make Kansas City a better place for all our residents,” Kansas City Mayor Sly James said in the release.

This story was produced through a a collaboration between Missouri Business Alert and Startland News.

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