BBIC expanding in St. Pete

BY FRANK DROUZAS, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG —The Tampa Bay Black Business Investment Corp (BBIC) held a ribbon cutting ceremony for its new St. Pete office at 1123 22nd St. S. Many BBIC members and city officials were on hand for the festivities, including Deputy Mayor Dr. Kanika Tomalin.

“Today we are gathered in celebration of a commitment to incubate and support minority-owned businesses and those who’ve been historically disenfranchised in a way that promises to change the trajectory of generational poverty in our city,” Tomalin said.

When the nonprofit organization was established in 1987, it aimed to provide funding opportunities to businesses owned and operated by African Americans, but now serves entrepreneurs of all ethnic backgrounds.  Underwriting, analysis of business and personal financial statements, site visits and technical assistance are among the services the BBIC provides to small businesses.

Tomalin said that long before Mayor Rick Kriseman came to office he held a vision of a transformed St. Pete that includes opportunity, adding that while Kriseman was campaigning for mayor he spent time traversing the entire city asking people what works and what must change. Some talked about the need for a local business champion, Tomalin explained, some asked for a revitalization of neighborhoods, while some asked for help to improve schools.

“None were more emphatic and consistent than those stories, those memories, those pleas that came from this corridor,” Tomalin said. “Here people asked for all of these things and more. Mostly they wanted validation that their hopes were feasible, and they wanted an opportunity to make those hopes reality.”

Mayor Rick Kriseman remarked that the event is more than just cutting the ribbon for the BBIC.

“We are here today to celebrate new opportunities,” the mayor told the crowd.

The BBIC was established to provide loans to historically underserved markets, but that’s only part of what makes this event and the BBIC so special, he said. The BBIC couldn’t do its work without one important component, Kriseman averred, and that is community partners. Financial institutions from across the region, the state and the nation have stepped up to partner with the BBIC.

“We are very excited about what’s going on here across the street and what’s happening here on the Deuces, and are committed to continuing the forward progress,” Kriseman affirmed.

Albert Lee, President and CEO of the Tampa Bay BBIC, said that one of the things the BBIC tries to do is “under promise and over deliver” to businesses. He stressed that it’s not the size of the office, but the impact that you’re able to make that’s important.

“I’ve done millions and millions of dollars’ worth of deals,” said Lee, who came from an extensive banking background before taking the reins at the BBIC. “But you know, I get more joy out of doing the deals we do here, because when you’re doing a deal for 10, 15, 20 million dollars for a company, somehow you don’t necessarily feel that you’re making the same impact. But I can do a $100,000 or a $50,000 loan or $20,000 loan or $10,000 loan and you see the impact. You see the look on the face of the entrepreneurs when you’re able to help them.”

He expressed the need of the Tampa-based organization to reestablish a presence in St. Pete and noted that this BBIC in Pinellas has already had over 80 contacts with small business owners.

“We’ve already made major progress. We have committed early on to about a quarter million dollars in our capital coming here to small businesses, 10 percent of that we’re going to use as a loan loss reserve. So that gave us a net amount of $225,000 committed to the St. Pete area for doing loans. As of now, we’ve done $215, 000,” Lee said to appreciative applause.

In an effort to acknowledge small businesses and to show that the Tampa Bay BBIC believes in what it practices, Lee explained that the office build was done by Rock Solid Construction and the architecture by Jerel McCants Architecture, both minority-owned businesses.

Ronald J. Peterson, CPA and Board Chair of the BBIC, touched on some of the organization’s history.

“Our purpose is to aid in the development and expansion of African American-owned businesses as well as minority owned businesses in general, and this is done through leveraging resources of state or local government and our corporate community,” Peterson stated. “It’s really important to leverage partnerships to have a greater impact in our community.”

Peterson said that since the organization started, it has made approximately $12 million in loans, helped with the creation and maintaining of roughly 1,100 jobs, and it hopes to do much more. He pointed out that when community businesses prosper, that usually means they will expand the business and hire more employees, typically from the community. Therefore, the community benefits from the expansion of businesses.

“What you would like to see is that as new employees are hired that strengthens their family and communities that they live in but in turn you would hope and expect that those individuals would patronize those businesses in the community,” Peterson said. “You complete the cycle when you do that, so it is critical that we foster, encourage and strengthen our small businesses.”

Elihu and Carolyn Brayboy were on hand to share their success with the BBIC. They explained that they were investing in historic buildings that line the 22nd Street Corridor, and happen to fall into the restaurant business.

“We could not have made it without capital support that we got from the Tampa Bay BBIC. It is critical in any business to have access to capital,” said Elihu whose restaurant, Chief’s Creole Café, is rated on TripAdvisor as number three out of 800 restaurants in St. Petersburg.

For more information on the Tampa Bay Black Business Investment Corp., go to tampabaybbic.com.

To reach Frank Drouzas, email fdrouzas@theweeklychallenger.com

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