More funds needed to expand program that helps minorities, women, veteran business owners, IDA official says

The Babylon Industrial Development Agency is hoping to continue and expand a program started during the pandemic to help minorities, women and veteran business owners.

The Economic Inclusion Initiative has helped more than two dozen entrepreneurs connect to financial, technical and legal assistance since it was launched in September 2020, according to the IDA. The program was started to address the economic disparities IDA officials were seeing in the town, including a proliferation of empty storefronts, said the agency’s CEO Tom Dolan who said the program could be a model for municipalities throughout the state but that it needs more funding to grow.

“We wanted to address it and make sure that businesses had the resources that they needed,” he said. 

This included talking to business owners about various loan options and helping them get certification as a minority and woman-owned business, or MWBE, which can assist with securing grants and government contracts.

About 60% of those who reached out to the IDA were considering starting a business that until the pandemic has been “just a side hustle,” said Dan Lloyd, a consultant to the IDA and president of Minority Millennials, a North Amityville-based nonprofit. Several of those never came to fruition, he said, but the program provided owners with information and resources that could help them in the future.

The IDA spent more than $2,700 for nine business owners to take courses at Hofstra University to learn about social media marketing and managing finances. Lloyd said giving entrepreneurs direct access to such information has been a cornerstone of the initiative.

“A lot of time individuals may not be aware of where to go,” he said. “They can come directly to us and not only are we able to direct them to those programs but we’re able to help them locate a vacant storefront or other partners.”

The program helped Cheryl Mchunguzi, 64, get her MWBE certification and she said the Hofstra class showed her new avenues for her psychotherapy business, Metamorphosis LMSW, P.C. which had gone stagnant with the pandemic shutdown. She is opening a new location in Wheatley Heights that will include other aspects of wellness, such as yoga, reiki and nutrition. She said the IDA program helped her to look at her business differently.

“We were all trying to reestablish and reinvent ourselves, and we didn’t even know what that looked like but we knew we needed to do something,” she said. “The IDA was able to give some impetus to that.”

The agency also helped businesses such as Wyandanch’s Spin the Yard, through a program that allows owners to be reimbursed for up to $25,000 for rent and renovation costs.

Spin the Yard owner Renita Certain said having that help was crucial for her boutique, which moved from Huntington in the midst of the pandemic.

“They invested in me,” she said. “Having that support gave me that structure to know how I should gear my business and what licenses I should be applying for, almost like having a business planner.”

State Assemb. Kimberly Jean-Pierre (D-Wheatley Heights) has secured $20,000 to help continue the program. Dolan said more is needed and about $200,000 has been spent so far.

“We really believe that we have a model that can be successful, not just for the Town of Babylon, but for the region,” Dolan said.

Some of the businesses helped by the Economic Inclusion Initiative

Accomplished and Gifted, Deer Park

Comida de Colon, Wyandanch

Dust Away Cleaning Services, North Amityville

Jericho Hill LLC, Lindenhurst

MACK Sports Apparel, North Amityville

The Yard 41 LLC, Wyandanch

Source: Babylon IDA

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