State College Program Proposal to Help Business Owners

OPINION AND COMMENT

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A quick Google search for women-owned businesses at State College yields a handful of results, some highlighting the more recognizable names like Webster’s Bookstore Cafe and The Makery. However, when you switch the search to African-American-owned small businesses at State College, a few come up: The Pregame Barbershop, The Lasting Look, and Waely Drop. Perhaps some well-established locals could add a few names to this list of women and minority-owned businesses, such as Black2Reality. Nonetheless, the general lack of awareness in our community of their existence – or more so the complete absence of these companies – speaks volumes.

Recently, Divine had the opportunity to speak with a group of young black professionals connected to Penn State in some way. During this discussion, two themes came to the fore: 1) The social/dating scene for 25+ is horrible; and 2) minority-owned businesses (especially stores that cater to women) are virtually non-existent.

When the group was asked about the likelihood of moving to State College, there was a resounding response: Absolutely not! Clearly, the lack of variety among where we eat, shop and socialize hurts our community’s ability to attract and retain a diverse population. These young professionals, recruited by the university as employees or graduate students, can’t imagine ever calling State College (or anywhere in Center County) residence because they are not represented in the basic composition of our city.

Over the past two years, we have seen a significant increase in State College business closures. While these vacant storefronts are sad reminders of the doom wrought by COVID, they also represent opportunities for the future – the chance to build and support the start of new businesses that will positively impact this community and enrich the fabric of our city. This is an opportunity to empower new business owners in this diverse talent pool to do business here and stay here.

However, the biggest hurdle for new business owners here is the often extremely expensive rent that is associated with most vacant commercial space in our downtown core. When you consider some recent research that indicates it takes an average of two years for a new small business to actually make a profit, the thought of taking on exorbitant rent is daunting enough to discourage many from trying. As a responsible local government committed to the principles of equity in opportunity and enrichment of diversity, we have an obligation to help new entrepreneurs who take big risks to open a business here.

That’s why we’re proposing the creation of a new program in the Borough of State College that would help new business owners from diverse and underrepresented backgrounds by providing substantial rent relief commensurate with the overall price of rent. , during the first two years of their stay here. . At full capacity this would cost less than $200,000 per year and there is certainly room in future budgets for this. The Department of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion already has a budget of $40,000 for “special projects,” and we can point to many areas of over-budgeting and under-spending, which, s if they were cut, would make room for this necessary program.

Divine Lipscomb is a member of the State College Borough Council and Josh Portney serves on the State College Borough Planning Commission.

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