Parisi anticipates County Board support for minority business hub

Feature Minority Business Hub Panel
Madison's proposed Center for Black Excellence and Culture is to be modeled after the Sherman Phoenix incubator project in Milwaukee.

Tomorrow night, the Dane County Board of Supervisors will hold a special meeting to take public testimony on the proposed 2021 Dane County budget, and even amid the budget constraints of a pandemic, there are some new spending proposals to consider.

One new item in County Executive Joe Parisi’s proposed budget is connected to race-related soul searching that followed this summer’s unrest, and that is $2 million in funding for the development of an economic development hub for minority-owned businesses. Not to be confused with the proposed Center for Black Excellence and Culture, a separate project planned for the Beltline, the hub would be built on a still-to-be determined site along the Park Street corridor.

The allocation would assist the Urban League of Greater Madison with the task of buying a site, reportedly by year’s end, for the development of a facility modeled after the Sherman Phoenix incubator project in Milwaukee. That facility, which offers safe, welcoming neighborhood spaces, was developed after a fatal police shooting led to violent unrest in the Sherman Park neighborhood of Milwaukee. Developed in a fire-damaged BMO Harris Bank building, it also offers space for small businesses of color that provide food diversity and wellness services and space to curate art exhibits, film showings, and other cultural events.

Regarding Madison’s version, Parisi hasn’t received any pushback from any supervisors on the Dane County Board and counts on support from County Board Chairwoman Analiese Eicher and from County Supervisor Sheila Stubbs , whose district will host the facility. “I have a strong partner in the proposal with County Supervisor Sheila Stubbs because this lies within her district, and the board is, like the rest of the community, looking for ways to improve a situation we all know needs to be improved,” Parisi notes. “This is a very concrete and practical step that can be taken to improve the lives of a lot of people.”

Committing public dollars for any new project, especially when budgets are tight, offers ample testimony for how strongly Parisi believes in the project. His vision is for a small business incubator to support minority business owners. “It’s important when we look at the question of equity that we look at economic justice along with all of the other pieces of the pie,” Parisi states. “Building Black wealth is critical to achieving that, and building Black wealth is in addition to providing opportunities to climb the corporate ladder and to have equitable hiring practices in the business community. Also key to success in that is providing a path and an opportunity for Black entrepreneurs and Black businesses to thrive.”

Over the summer, the county entered into a $100,000 contract with the Urban League of Greater Madison to fund the salary of a person to plan the facility and handle the site search. Ruben Anthony, president and CEO of the Urban League, has said that more than a dozen small businesses have already reached out to the organization and expressed interest in the space. The Urban League has also been in talks with potential partners who could provide financial and technical support.

Anthony has been outspoken about the need to accelerate the development of an economic ecosystem for minority businesses, and an entrepreneurial hub would be a central piece of that ecosystem. Having already entered into a partnership with the Urban League, Parisi would welcome additional support from the business community as part of a public-private partnership. “We know they [Urban League] will be looking for other investors and other units of government to invest and businesses to invest, and they will be looking to various programs from the federal government — tax incentives and that sort of thing,” Parisi says. “It will take the coming together of a lot of different sources, but that’s going to happen because people are looking for projects that are real and that show potential.

“When you look at the folks who are involved in this program, in this initiative, there are a lot of people with excellent reputations and who we all know we can trust to move a project like this forward. So, I think there will be investments and dollars coming in from numerous sources, just like most projects.”

The project has yet to be officially named, but there is little mystery about its purpose. According to Parisi, the south side of Madison offers potential for Black entrepreneurs to build on the strengths of the region, and by undertaking this initiative, the Urban League will provide a sense of community among people with different skill sets. The goal is to not only build something for businesspeople, but also the community in general.

“There is an amazing amount of potential in south Madison, and there is an amazing amount of potential for Black-owned businesses that just need an opportunity to grow and develop,” Parisi notes. “Again, this is obviously important for the Black community, but it’s also important to the entire community that everyone has the opportunity to have a shot at their dreams and to reach their full potential because of what it gives back to everyone in Dane County.”

Virtual meeting

The County Board’s special budget meeting will take place Wednesday, Oct. 21, at 6 p.m. The meeting will be held virtually, and information to register and connect to the meeting is available at the top of the board’s agenda.

The public is invited to testify for or against items in Parisi’s proposed $687.2 million budget. Testimony is also welcome on any amendments to his budget proposal.

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