SPARTANBURG, S.C. (WSPA) – Spartanburg city data found there are more than 800 Black owned businesses in Spartanburg, which sounds great. But City Hall’s Minority Business Development Coordinator, Natasha Pitts, noted that the city has more than 4,000 businesses.
So, while African Americans make up more than 47% of the population in Spartanburg, they only make up nearly 20% of business owners, city officials noted those numbers don’t add up.
“We understand the need for more representation in a community that we serve. So, we want to make sure that we’re giving the community options,” Pitts said.
Thus, as people of all colors across the globe continue to examine their history with Black people, Pitts has taken stock of this issue and already started doing the work of change.
Her business program, Amplify, is aimed at helping women and minorities- specifically African Americans- become business owners. So far, the program has graduated its third class of Black entrepreneurs this year.
“I’m not saying that [those who aren’t Black] don’t matter,” Pitts explained. “I’m not saying that business ownership is any different whether you’re black, white, red, green or purple. But, what I’m saying is that African Americans have historically had a harder time accessing capitol.”
Since the Municipal Association of South Carolina’s first grant for Amplify in 2017, more than 30 businesses have come through the minority business program, and of those 20 are fully operational.
“If you think about entrepreneurship in the African American community, it has been around for several years. But they’ve also had difficulties in accessing capitol, being able to market their businesses, getting access to space when they need it and just getting the same opportunities that our counterparts get,” Pitts said.
Recent Amplify Class of 2018 graduate Leron Rahynes, of gas and delivery service Vul Inc., said the program helped him greatly.
“I was in the idea phase for a good bit of time,” Rahynes said. “I’m an educator, you know. I don’t do this full time right now. My mindset has always been about teaching kids and doing that effectively. I didn’t say to myself growing up that I want to be a petrol pusher. That’s just kind of the field that I fell into.”
Amplify Class of 2019’s Jasmine Herbert, of resume and career services company The Employee Handbook LLC, agreed this program is necessary.
“To carry you through from top to bottom: how to run a business, how to start one, what people are looking for? Just because you think it’s a good idea, does it really speak to your audience? Who is your audience? Like we learned everything,” Herbert said.
Both owners are still working full time jobs in addition to managing their businesses. For many new businesses, Pitts added it can be hard to dump all money, time and effort into that business and not struggle. Thus, working while running your own business isn’t uncommon.
“Think about a lot of businesses that we patron and that we see from our counterparts. It’s legacy building. You know their grandfather started this business, and then their father took it over and they left it for their children and their children’s children. We want to build that type of legacy in the Black community,” Pitts said.
It’s no secret COVID-19 has created a harsh environment for small businesses. Herbert said it’s thanks to Amplify’s teachings she was able to keep pushing by using her website and her nearly 10 years of HR experience.
Clients can schedule virtual one-on-one or group consultations. Herbert explained her business offers numerous professional developments: cover letter and resume building, professional job advice, and even help for some to find the right job.
“It’s just a matter of being able to really look at what your skill set is and how can you fit in. Not capitalize on the pandemic, but really just figure out how to move your business from one area of comfort-ability to another,” Herbert said. “So, it’s impacted, you know, the things I can do in person but virtually not so much.”
Different from his colleague, Rahynes said the inconvenience of COVID combined with the convenience of delivery services- especially when his wife was on maternity leave- all helped birth his business.
“We were saying like, ‘She doesn’t have to leave the house for anything unless she needs gas.’ Come to think of it she always needs gas. Her car is always on E. I wonder if someone delivers gas.’ That sounds like a great business idea and I just ran all the way down that rabbit hole until I came up with it,” Rahynes explained.
Thus, Amplify is about building representation because in the heart of downtown Spartanburg, you can count the number of Black owned businesses on main street with both hands.
“I’m excited,” Pitts said, “because I can say when I first started in this role, which has been about five years ago, we had one.”
Pitts explained that historical systematic inequalities in place within banking and government have consistently led to less Black businesses owners, not only in Spartanburg, but across the US.
“We’ve historically had a hard time operating a business and being successful. Making sure that, you know, we have correct business license. You know, we’re paying our sales tax. We’re paying our hospitality tax. You know, we’re registered with the state, we’re licensed,” Pitts said. “We want to do that information, but maybe we don’t know how.”
With the recent launch of Vul Inc. phone app, Rahynes has been energized and said there’s no need to be scared of opening a business.
“When you walk down the bread aisle in the grocery store, there is a whole aisle. There’s like 20-30 different brands there. But you know like, everybody needs bread. So, you know, what’s going to stop you from being one more brands that are out there?” Rahynes said.
Herbert said starting a business is all about happily seizing your opportunity.
“When I saw that gap, I was like, you know what, good people are being looked over for positions. They’re not really understanding the behind the scenes of what an employer is looking for. I know that being the intermediary between employers and candidates, what that can do. So, you know what, I feel like I need to tell the people,” Herbert said.