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 by the Citi Foundations and Living Cities to increase the opportunities for firms owned by people of color in Kansas City to secure public contracts across the region and the nation, according to a release.
First Fridays food truck staple Esra England — who opened his minority-owned KC Cajun business in Independence’s Ennovation Center two years ago — 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 typically tries to steer his food truck to locations with the most foot traffic.
With construction work underway at the Kansas City International Airport, KC Cajun is likely to obtain a city contract to serve construction workers at the airport, said Gabe Muñoz, Kansas City ESHIP fellow for Forward Cities.
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.
National data findings on racial wealth disparity support the narrative. By 2050 median wealth owned by white Americans is projected to be $174,000, while wealth owned by Latinos will be $8,600 and black median wealth will be $600, a study by the Institute for Policy Studies found. Black family wealth is on track to reach zero wealth by 2082, according to the study.
“Kansas City is on a quest to become the most entrepreneurial city in America, but we have to make sure that we have opportunities for everyone,” said Richardson.
The facts currently surface a contradicting reality to the city’s aspirations, she said. Kansas City ranks second to last among 50 cities in terms of opportunities for minority owned businesses, according to a study conducted by loan brokerage company Lending Tree.
“The biggest challenge (for minority-owned businesses) is access to funds and education,” said England.
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 being reciprocated to businesses within KCMO, 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, said Richardson.
“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, KCMO assistant city manager for entrepreneurship and small business.
The City Accelerator initiative also is expected to allocate such resources as coaching, technical assistance and tools to sculpt the 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,” said Sly James, KCMO mayor.
This story was produced through a a collaboration between Missouri Business Alert and Startland News.