Small businesses strive for exposure in North Omaha

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June 11th, 2012

Omaha, NE – Thriving small businesses once lined 24th Street in North Omaha, but today they are few and far between. One non-profit group wants to help turn that situation around. About 15 entrepreneurs gathered at the Love’s Jazz and Art Center last weekend to network and market their products at the North O Cultural and Arts Expo.

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Several vendors with skin care products, food, and jewelry set up shop at Love's Jazz and Arts Center. (Photo by Angel Martin)

The main showroom at the Love’s Jazz & Arts Center was transformed into a variety shop complete with several vendors selling skin care products, jewelry, hand bags and more. Vee, who only gave her first name, stood next to a table with neatly-decorated miniature cupcakes, topped with lemon and chocolate frosting, and placed on silver trays.

“We’re doing a great job…we’re just about sold out,” Vee said. “So, it’s not a bad day.”

Vee was representing her daughter Zedeka Poindexter’s business at the expo. She said about 18 months ago, Poindexter started Legacy Sweets while working fulltime and attending graduate school to make some extra money for retirement. Vee said running a small business has been a great opportunity for her daughter. “This is the thing that runs the country – small businesses,” she said.

Poindexter’s business is based in her home and currently has no employees. Poindexter said she would like to take her business to the next level and move beyond delivering desserts, and that’s the kind of move Dell Gines would like to see happen. Gines is the senior community development advisor for the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, Omaha Branch. He said small businesses are engines of job growth, and events like the expo can be helpful marketing tools for new entrepreneurs.

“It gives them the opportunity to come and have a booth,” Gines said. “To have a large amount of the public come to them… and they get to see people that they normally would not get to see or hear about, so it’s really good for small vendors,” he said.

Dell Gines, right, stands with Aisha Okudi, the owner of SHA Luminous, at the North O Cultural and Arts Expo. (Photo by Angel Martin)

Gines is a native of Omaha, and said over the years he’s worked with hundreds of small businesses. There are almost 500 listed in the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce directory. But Gines said the small business density in North Omaha, an area with high unemployment, is low. He said businesses in the area make less revenue, are more likely to not have any employees, and often fail because of a lack of access to capital and a limited network of successful entrepreneurs.

Gines added people in the community should work toward improving the economic development structure in this area, which is home to predominantly minority and low-income residents.

“We need a better balance between issues of social justice and community service,” Gines said. Working to stop violence, reduce poverty by directly working with families should be balanced with efforts toward developing “higher level economic development strategies that really work to support business ownership and growth,” he said.

Gines said the principles of business are universal, and with focused support in the area, those principles could be taught and nurtured in under-developed parts of the city. Gines said one idea for focused support would be the creation of a North Omaha Chamber of Commerce, which he said could produce a significant return on investment, “if we do it right.” A North Omaha Chamber of Commerce could help keep businesses in the community and grow businesses, Gines said, in turn “recycling dollars in the community and creating wealth for minority and urban community citizens.”

In addition to the small business vendors, community-based service providers, local entertainers, drill teams, and lines dancers were also at the expo. Organizers said about 200 people attended, and collectively the vendors made an estimated $10,000. The plan is to make this an annual event.

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