Women’s resource center awards $350K to spark diverse small business growth in Philly

Erin Wilson, left, state director for U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, talks with Ariell Johnson, owner of Amalgam Comics and Coffeehouse. (Abdul Sulayman/Tribune Chief Photographer)

Erin Wilson, left, state director for U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, talks with Ariell Johnson, owner of Amalgam Comics and Coffeehouse. (Abdul Sulayman/Tribune Chief Photographer)

This story originally appeared on The Philadelphia Tribune.

When Ariell Johnson needed funding to open Amalgam Comics and Coffeehouse, she turned to the Women’s Opportunities Resource Center (WORC) for assistance.

She received a $15,000 loan from the microenterprise organization that focuses on promoting social and economic self-sufficiency.

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“As a first-time business owner (and) a young Black woman, working with WORC really helped me to kind of navigate and just get a real picture of what opening a business would look like,” Johnson said.

She became the first African American to own a comic book store on the East Coast when she opened Amalgam Comics and Coffeehouse in 2015 at 2578 Frankford Ave.

More entrepreneurs like Johnson will benefit from a new $350,000 grant awarded to WORC through the Wells Fargo Works for Small Business: Diverse Community Capital program.

The program awards lending capital and grants to community development financial institutions like WORC, which then offer financial products to diverse small business owners who typically don’t have access to conventional financing. Across the country, Diverse Community Capital awardees have closed more than $391 million through more than 8,000 loans to diverse small business clients.

“We strongly believe that small businesses are the backbone of a strong economy,” Joseph Kirk, region bank president, Wells Fargo said during a press conference held Monday at Amalgam to announce the new funding.

“The bottom line is we want to see small businesses grow and develop right here in Greater Philadelphia. Like WORC, we understand how critical it is for small businesses to have access to capital when facing the challenges of building a business, like the business we’re in today.”

WORC is one of three Philadelphia organizations to receive a total of $1.5 million in awards through a nationwide funding competition.

“We are extremely proud the Wells Fargo Foundation selected us for such an impressive grant to assist some of the city and region’s most vulnerable businesses,” said Lynne Cutler, president of WORC.

“Small and diverse businesses have a positive impact on our economy and we realize that support from our financial institutions are key to the growth, vitality and sustainability.”

Cutler said the organization is planning use some of its funding to help business owners buy their commercial properties.

“This is part of our asset building strategy where we really want businesses to create wealth and also to prevent displacement because of gentrification,” she added.

The U.S. Small Business Administration’s Eastern Pennsylvania District also announced that WORC has become the newest SBA Community Advantage Lender, enabling the organization to make loans up to $250,000. The organization is expected to make $1.5 million in loans this year through the Community Advantage Lending program. The initiative is designed to meet the credit, management and technical assistance needs of small businesses in underserved markets.

“Financing is one of the biggest challenges you’ll ever face as a business owner and the SBA addresses that as a federal agency of the United States by backing loans made by our commercial lending partners like Wells Fargo and our nonprofit lending partners like WORC,” explained Rob Goza, an economic development specialist for the SBA.

During the press conference, Johnson reflected on the importance of having programs that help boost small business development.

“Things like this are so important,” she said.

“It’s very important for us to support our small businesses — our women-, queer- and minority-owned businesses — because we exist. I think that it’s very powerful to kind of see the diversification of small business and I feel a great honor to be part of that story within the city of Philadelphia.”

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