Getting Down to Business : Economy: Urban League opens center that will aid minority entrepreneurs and offer inner-city residents training for bank employment.


Backed by $2 million of financial muscle from large corporations, the Los Angeles Urban League has launched a two-pronged program aimed at developing minority entrepreneurs and training inner-city residents for jobs with financial institutions.

The Business Development and Entrepreneur Center in Inglewood opened Tuesday at a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown, Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, Inglewood Mayor Ed Vinson and other local political and business leaders.

John W. Mack, president of the Los Angeles Urban League, said the program’s goals were simple: “Cause dollars to turn over more than one time in South-Central Los Angeles and Inglewood, and put food on the table for thousands of African-Americans and other minorities.”


The effort to establish the center grew out of a partnership that developed between the Urban League, the Arco Foundation and several leading banks and savings and loans after last year’s riots.

Arco put up $1 million to back the entrepreneurial development project, and a consortium of 17 financial institutions kicked in another $1 million for the job training program for banks. In addition, other companies made various donations, such as IBM, which contributed $80,000 worth of computers.

Brown praised the Urban League for its efforts “to forge a strong relationship” with the private sector.

“We have to create sustained economic growth in America,” he said, adding that “it’s the private sector that fuels the engine that pulls the train of economic growth.”

Under the job program, as many as 100 participants will be trained each year as tellers, appraisers and loan processors. Full-time jobs will be guaranteed upon completion of the training.

In addition, the Urban League will also nurture aspiring entrepreneurs with seminars, workshops and one-on-one assistance designed to help in fledgling minority-owned businesses with financial management, marketing and loan packaging.

Increasing the number of minority-owned businesses inevitably increases employment opportunities, said Mack, who expects as many as 1,500 new and existing small businesses to be served by the center. The range of enterprises will vary from large manufacturing businesses to mom-and-pop stores, such as dry cleaners, restaurants and print shops.

The program will also help businesses gain access to capital and use it effectively.

For example, Mack said, the center will be linked by computer to local government purchasing departments, giving small businesses an opportunity to bid on contracts.

“That’s a tremendous service,” Mack said. “All too often, we find out about these opportunities after the fact. Now businesses will get a head start.”

Riordan applauded the program as “an example of what was needed in Southern California to turn the economy around.”

Lodwrick M. Cook, chairman and chief executive officer of Arco, said the program will help small-business operators learn how to survive and thrive in the competitive world. “You don’t make it if you don’t know the ropes,” he said.