In Chatham County and other rural counties across North Carolina, the racial wealth gap is wide. But so far, observers say little documentation has been compiled to help understand the barriers faced by those on the low end of the income and wealth scale.
On Friday, Feb. 3, WEBB Squared — a nonprofit organization created in Chatham to build generational wealth by providing incubator-accelerator services to Black and Brown entrepreneurs — will present what organizers are calling a “groundbreaking report.” As part of a morning-long event in Pittsboro, speakers will address the status of entrepreneurs of color in Chatham County and other rural counties in North Carolina and share cutting-edge data across a range of social and economic indicators to highlight the impact of centuries of policies and practices that remain as barriers to opportunities.
The report, according to WEBB Squared’s Stephanie Terry, will also help establish a baseline from which to measure progress to stem the tide of wealth inequality — giving new entrepreneurs insights to start, grow, sustain and scale their businesses to create jobs, hire employees, and improve economic household and community conditions.
This week, we spoke with Terry, WEBB Squared’s co-founder, to preview the event.
For those not familiar with WEBB Squared, share a little about its creation and mission …
In October 2021, Rinnie Orr and I launched Wealth through Entrepreneurship for Black and Brown Businesses (WEBB Squared), a nonprofit incubator/accelerator that seeks to redress the racial wealth gap and build generational wealth by providing incubator-accelerator services to Black and Brown entrepreneurs, providing training, coaching and resources for minority businesses.
During the height of the pandemic, we met online with diverse entrepreneurs. We’d meet weekly to understand how to navigate COVID-19 and its impact on our businesses; entrepreneurs also shared business expertise, networks and resources.
Eventually, the Black entrepreneurs began to meet weekly, in addition to the regular meetings, to discuss and connect around the unique challenges that we faced as entrepreneurs of color. The Black entrepreneurs began to realize, after researching, that there was very little infrastructure to support Black entrepreneurs living in rural counties in North Carolina.
The racial wealth gap grows from centuries of a systemic race-structured economic order embedded in institutional culture, policies, social norms and belief systems. WEBB Squared, informed by this reality, understands that people of color require intentional services, resources and opportunities for wealth building.
Can you share some success stories from the incubator-accelerator services you’ve provided to Black and Brown entrepreneurs?
In January 2022, WEBB Squared onboarded 19 Black entrepreneurs from various industries. Outcomes from a year of our programmatic services include:
• two received grants totaling $25,000
• one completed a successful capital campaign
• 12 completed license and registration
• one connected to a partnering organization
• 80% business plans written
• 250+ coaching hours
• 70% completed Phase 1 of Entrepreneurial Mindset Workshops
• four entrepreneurs moved from ideation to product/service launch
• 50% participated in case study research group
There’s been some discussion here about the racial gap in Chatham and other rural counties, but what about data and documentation? What’s been missing in that discussion?
There is no place more ripe for reform than the economic environments of rural communities in North Carolina. In 2017 U.S. Census data shows that North Carolina was a majority rural state, with 80% rural counties. Black residents consistently measure below the national average and are likely to live in areas of concentrated poverty.
Discriminatory policies have been inherited and are embedded in our institutional infrastructure, our social norms, and our unconscious biases and beliefs. As long as these mechanisms remain unrecognizable and detached from their historical origins, the more powerful they will continue to inform the racial wealth gap.
We believe that race-based problems require race-based solutions.
Our interventions are designed to liberate consciousness and efficacy in our target populations and in the larger business stakeholder community. We believe that Black and Brown entrepreneurs are the change agents that can help evolve and transform our rural economies. Our programs support translating their brilliance into profitable, sustainable business ventures.
And why is it important to close that gap — to provide opportunities to entrepreneurs and business owners to help build generational wealth?
Our work places us in the heart of rural Black communities. The relationships we develop often involve people who don’t even consider themselves entrepreneurs because they don’t have the physical, economic or manufacturing infrastructure supporting them. Yet, they are highly skilled tradespersons, artisans and service providers, selling their products and services to friends, family and the community.
Our ability to assist these informal entrepreneurs with realizing their talent and economic potential relies on cultural competency that other small business aggregators don’t make an effort or have the capacity to do.
Our guiding question is always: “What would our rural communities look like if we address the constraints that limit the masses of skilled, innovative, and talented Black and Brown entrepreneurs?”
Our vision of our work is to curate, incubate and accelerate an analysis connected to methodologies that transform rural local markets in North Carolina from excluding and hierarchical to a maturity that encourages cooperation, constrains racism, supports circulation and nurtures active interdependency.
What’ll happen at your event on Feb 3?
The event begins at 9.30 a.m. with a networking hour and brunch. Chatham County Commissioners have indicated that they will attend, as have the mayors of Pittsboro and Siler City. Many of WEBB Squared’s business partners will be there as well. The products and services of some of the small businesses that have been launched as a result of WEBB Squared’s work will be on display.
The program starts promptly at 10.30 a.m. The presentation of WEBB Squared’s “State of Black Entrepreneurship in Rural North Carolina” report will disaggregate data from a range of sources to create a clear picture of the racial wealth gap in our county, to explain its origins and explore some of the assumptions that reinforce the systems and processes that continue to thwart economic mobility for people of color. The report’s author and presenter, internationally respected historian and scholar, and Chatham County resident, Dr. Carolyn Jefferson-Jenkins, will speak.
A community discussion will immediately follow the presentation. WEBB Squared has convened a panel of experts from all sectors to share their experience and expertise to help elaborate on the information presented in the report and generate ideas about how we can work together across sectors to create an economy in Chatham County that drives economic opportunity for all.
I’ll be a part of a panel that will include:
• Karen Howard, chairperson of The Chatham County Board of Commissioners
• Michael Smith, president, Chatham County EDC
• Chreatha Alston, vice chairperson, board of directors, Chatham County EDC
• JaLisha Richmond, director of Lending & Client Support, Thread Capital
• Shirley Gray, president, Vauxhall Enterprise and WEBB Squared entrepreneur
• Shauna Noel-Robinson, founder, Chef Shauna’s Events & Catering and Webb Squared Entrepreneur
• Rep. Robert Reives II
Can you provide a preview of what attendees will learn?
Attendees will learn about the racial wealth gap in Chatham County and North Carolina and how it affects both families and our county’s economy. They will explore several widespread assumptions about economic inequity and consider new ideas about how local policies and processes can be enhanced to build an economy that ensures all families have a fair shot at achieving their economic dreams.
Why is it important for people to attend?
Chatham County’s economy is on the threshold of a boom. The arrival of VinFast and Wolfspeed signal only the beginning of an economic development trend that is going to bring not only new jobs — but also, the need for local business services and goods. As we consider the future together, and plan policies and systems to handle the growth, it is critical that we do so with an understanding of the wealth gap that exists and a shared commitment to working together to create an ecosystem that works for everyone — and in which no one is left behind.
And why will the report you present be so important?
The report is important because it synthesizes an enormous amount of data from respected sources and makes it easy to understand how this information impacts the quality of life in Chatham County.
Tickets are available through WEBB Squared https://webbsquared.org/state-of-black-entrepreneurship/
Brunch will be provided by Scurlock’s Catering and 39 West Catering services.
Sponsors include The Fenwick Foundation, 39 West Catering, Chatham United Way, The Plant, Chatham Park, MOSAIC, Thread Capital, Emily Bennett Creative, Duke Energy, Community Organizing for Racial Equity, Marlow Campbell Insurance Group, CAM Mega Site, Central Carolina Community College, Brookwood Farms, American Endowment Foundation, TickWarriors, Levitate, and the Community Remembrance Committee Chatham.