Community Partner Highlight: Lourdes Zapata, Senior Vice President and Jamila Diaz, Senior Director, Business Services, at SoBro
1. How long has your organization been in the business of helping small businesses?
South Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation was founded in 1972 by a group of business leaders in the South Bronx who were concerned about the disinvestment that was affecting this community at that time. Their vision was to establish a local community based organization to address the economic development needs of the community. We initially started by focusing on real estate issues related to community and commercial space, working with private banks to creatively bring their resources to our community.
Over our 41 year existence, we've evolved with our community and have expanded the services we provide. We now have two significant portions to the work that we do. The first is our workforce and career development division under which we provide educational and vocational services to youth and adults. The other is our community and economic development division where we implement a variety of commercial and industrial program services, including real estate development and management of affordable housing, office, commercial and industrial spaces.
2. What's been your organization's biggest hurdle in achieving its goals of aiding small businesses?
Lack of resources is our biggest hurdle. Within our borough alone, we’ve had a 300% growth in small business development, and yet the funding that's available through public agencies to help organizations like SoBro provide technical assistance has either remained stagnant over the last decade or has decreased significantly. It is a tremendous challenge for organizations like ours.
We also have one of the busiest industrial business zones in the City of New York. There are five sectors in the Bronx being served by a single provider, while other boroughs are served by two or three providers. The amount of funding received to deliver services to businesses in these areas is dependent on the number of service providers in each borough and as the only provider for the Bronx, we're only allocated that proportionate amount of funding. While we are capable of stretching our staffing resources to serve the entire borough, as a single provider we are not proportionately receiving the extent of financial resources that other boroughs are receiving. It's difficult to provide quality service for this borough with such limited resources.
3. Describe any major accomplishments for SoBro over the last year.
Despite our challenges, we were able to service 256 industrial clients over the past year and were able to provide access to financing to 16 businesses which secured over $3 million in private capital. In the Bronx, industrial sectors are beginning to organically specialize in specific manufacturing or distribution industries such as food or transportation and as a result, the industrial sector is expanding throughout the Bronx.
This year we also received a federal grant which allowed us to create a new center for a minority business development assistance program. We are going to be able to expand our efforts to assist minority businesses with certifications, financing and exporting opportunities. This will help us to provide further assistance to the industrial businesses within the Bronx.
Finally, we also worked very closely with the City in looking at the boundaries of the industrial business zones. When it came to having a conversation about the existing zones in the borough and whether they needed to be expanded or contracted to make the Zones more efficient, officials worked with SoBro to discuss the industrial needs within the Bronx community and secure our "on the ground" assessment of the industrial landscape in the borough.
4. What are the key strategic goals for your organization over the next year?
Our goal is to continue to promote, market, and expand the business within the borough and to ensure they are getting the attention and support they should be receiving from the City. We have a tremendous industrial base. The boroughs that are traditionally considered for industrial uses are being filled - the Bronx has many viable opportunities for industrial development.
5. What should a small business entrepreneur know about your organization?
They should know that we are able to assist a range of businesses, from start-up businesses to well established businesses. If we don't have the programming on site to assist a business, we have partners that we can refer them to.
6. Where can they get more information about SoBro?
Online at www.sobro.org
7. Discuss how a partnership with NYBDC can help your organization achieve its mission.
We've had a lot of experience with NYBDC lending, specifically under its 504 lending initiatives. We've recently become aware of potential opportunities through NYBDC to provide technical assistance for manufacturing and industrial companies. We'd like to expand our partnership with NYBDC to see how we can work together to better assist small businesses.