[caption id="attachment_234415" align="aligncenter" width="1200"] State Sen. Darius Brown organized the Opportunity LIVES Here symposium to highlight the assets of his community. | DBT PHOTO BY KATIE TABELING[/caption]
WILMINGTON — Thinking big with bold actions will help continue to raise the Wilmington and Edgemoor communities and their underrepresented populations, according to state and regional business leaders at the Opportunity LIVES Here symposium Wednesday.Wilmington’s Riverfront may serve as a flashpoint for the city’s growth, as a string of rundown warehouses along the Christina River were transformed 27 years ago into stores, restaurants, a movie theater, the Frawley Stadium and a river walk. But State Sen. Darius Brown (D-Edgemoor/Wilmington), who organized the event, sees that as a prologue of what could come next for his district.“For too long, it’s been a fight for the neighborhood, the Riverfront and the downtown. Prosperity does not have to be mutually exclusive, we can do both,” Brown told the Delaware Business Times. “We have lots of land here, and the state sits right in the middle of the mid-Atlantic region. In my district, I-95, 495 and 295 are all interwoven. We have the port and the airport nearby. Opportunity literally does live here.”Brown represents Senate District 2, which has roughly 65% Black residents. But historically, Black employees and business owners have struggled to gain access to capital and access to opportunity across the nation.In 2022, just 1% of all venture capital funding went to Black-founded companies and less than 2% went to Latin American founders, according to U.S. Chamber of Commerce Senior Vice President of Strategic Alliances and Outreach Rick Wade. In terms of federal contracts, 1.67% of those went to Black-owned businesses.“African American spending power now exceeds $1 trillion, which makes Black America the 15th largest economy in the world,” Wade said. “But Black spending power may be characterized as a weakness, because although we have acquired more money since the 1960s, there has been a decline of historic enterprises and social organizations across our communities.”With the disappearance of Black Wall Streets in American cities like Detroit and those in small towns like Wade’s hometown of Lancaster, S.C., he argued there was a lack of visibility of entrepreneurship and communal gathering to inspire others to follow in their footsteps.“There are no easy solutions to revitalize communities overnight. Our goal must be to develop businesses connected to high-growth sectors like health, technology and energy. Private-sector investment is needed to sustain it. We need imagination beyond our situation,” he said.Delaware has invested public dollars into small business through EDGE grants and the Strategic Fund, and state officials are rolling out initiatives to diversify its contractors for infrastructure projects. But there’s also lending programs targeted to people of color, like True Access Capital and Bronze Valley.True Access Capital lent out more than $7 million in loans to people of color, including the office for the Delaware Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Meanwhile, Bronze Valley had just wrapped up its first Delaware business accelerator in August, and is planning the next phase.“We’ve been successful in recruiting two companies, one based in Toronto and one in D.C. to relocate their headquarters to Wilmington,” Bronze Valley Managing Partner Neill Wright said. “About 90% of the investments we’ve made have gone to diversity-led companies. Those companies generated about $52 million in start-up revenue and created more than 80 jobs.”Home and property ownership could be another way to create economic stability in the Black community, as property transfer is one of the major paths for building generational wealth. But only 44% of homeowners today are Black, according to the National Association of Realtors. Part of the problem is the income gap between white and Black workers, forcing Black families to rely more on credit.
[caption id="attachment_234416" align="alignleft" width="300"] Meridian Bank Senior Loan Officer Kescha Vaugh discusses how her personal story about buying her first home inspired her to fight for more transparency for Black residents. | DBT PHOTO BY KATIE TABELING[/caption]
Meridian Bank senior loan officer Kescha Vaugh argued that this creates a cycle where families can’t easily buy property because of a low credit score. She faced her own issues when she was younger and wanted to buy a house, but her debt-to-income ratio was an issue for mortgage lenders.“My mother was able to use her home equity to help me pay off that debt, and she didn’t realize that until we were in this process,” Vaugh said. “The mindset has to change about using credit, staying on budgets and having that conversation with our children early.”It’s a problem that still persists in Delaware, as the recentHousing Needs Assessment found that 48% of Black renters in Delaware reported credit score as the reason to continue renting. Hispanic renters were similarly positioned at 42%.But aside from boosting financial literacy in the next generation, it’s also a matter of perception that needs to change. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, roughly 1.7 million Black millennials in major metropolitan areas could qualify for a mortgage, according to the National Association of Real Estate Brokers. In the Philadelphia-Wilmington census tract, that was 515 Black families.“They have the credit, but the word is not getting out to them,” said Darlene Meekins, a Realtor with Realty Mark Associates who also holds a leadership role with the National Association of Real Estate Brokers (NAREB), a business association focused on fair housing for people of color, and represents Delaware, Pennsylvania and New York. “We’re reaching out to the faith-based organizations, sororities and fraternities to let them know this is possible, as well as helping them navigate the obstacles.”The local branch of the NAREB, the Realtist Association of Delaware, will be hosting a Community Wealth Building Day on April 13, where financial counselors, realtors, investors and developers will be on hand to promote property ownership and development.