If capitalism could be reconfigured to allow neighbors to become owners of their own unique businesses, what would it look like?
That question is being answered in Southern Dallas, where six co-working/entrepreneur centers are in varying stages of development.
Representatives from the Red Bird Entrepreneur Center, Impact House, GoodWork, the Fair Park Entrepreneur Center (The District), Tyler Station, and the Grow DeSoto Business Incubator gathered on June 15 to describe their progress, strategies, and their aspirations for Southern Dallas.
The panelists all emphasized their overlapping missions, which include improving the quality of workers’ lives, boosting surrounding neighborhoods (where most of them live), while netting a profit (referred to as the “triple bottom line”). They also agreed upon the idea of including existing neighbors and businesses in their work, rather than pushing them out through gentrification.
More than 60 members of the Dallas Regional Chamber converged to get the download as part of the DRC’s Southern Dallas Task Force and Innovation meeting.
GROW DESOTO BUSINESS INCUBATOR
“We have many, many little jewels in southern Dallas County,” said Monte Anderson, founder of Tyler Station and Grow DeSoto. “We have many special entrepreneurs who just need an entry point. They just need a lemonade stand, to stand in for a day. I was like that when I got into this business. I had to be on a stand in the street, selling real estate. I couldn’t go to school and learn it, and (to) do a business plan. I needed a place to practice.”
“We have many, many little jewels in Southern Dallas County.”
Anderson and his investors purchased and cleared out the 110,000-square-foot former location of Dixie Wax Paper Company in Oak Cliff. The structure is now occupied by a brewery, welders, carpenters, furniture makers, architects, photographers, and other tenants.
The Grow DeSoto Business Incubator, meanwhile, is located at the former Brookhollow Shopping Center in DeSoto, which once housed an Ace Hardware as its anchor tenant. Plans for the redevelopment include restaurants, retail spaces, and a full-service barbershop.
“We had a pitch day last weekend, kind of like a talent show or a ‘Shark Tank,’” Anderson said. “We had 25 slots for entrepreneurs to come in. We didn’t know if they were there. We had 15 leases come to us. How many of you real estate guys would like to have 15 leases come to you?”
Anderson said winners of the competition ranged from children who plan to open their own snowcone and ice cream stands to adults who intend to sell barbecue and Cajun food.
“You don’t create the x-factor from a franchise” Anderson said. “Communities need to be themselves.”
RED BIRD ENTREPRENEUR CENTER
Michelle Williams represented the Red Bird Entrepreneur Center, a collaboration involving the Dallas Entrepreneur Center, the DRC, and the Red Bird Mall redevelopment team. That center will be located at Red Bird Mall and will serve as an incubator and workspace for aspiring entrepreneurs in that part of town.
Williams said from the start, the Red Bird Mall developers have worked with neighbors to incorporate the tools and connections necessary to help their businesses take off. The Red Bird center will serve as a hub of support for affiliated entrepreneur centers at University of North Texas at Dallas and Paul Quinn College, and for other general entrepreneurial efforts in Southern Dallas.
Also working with neighborhood entrepreneurs and professionals is the co-working space GoodWork, represented at the forum by its co-founder, Amy King.
King said GoodWork’s location — in the 1808 building on South Good-Latimer — was perfect for her organization’s mission.
“It is an area that didn’t have much going on,” King said. “It was kind of like tumbleweeds at night. There are a couple dilapidated houses that are left, but the whole area was bisected by I-30. I’ve seen that in so many cities (e.g.), Detroit, Dallas, etc. People are cut off. You get white flight. Now, entrepreneurship is one of the biggest things that’s breaking that cycle. Being able to be the first, we’re kind of the “produce district” — [it’s] the double meaning for ‘produce’ and produce.”
While the Fair Park District Entrepreneur Center (The District) is obtaining financing to refurbish its 5,000 square-foot building near Fair Park, its leader, Doric Earle, has been working with neighbors, business owners, and property owners in its Fair Park neighborhood to establish a community garden.
“What we’re trying to do is to create an economy and environment built for retail, and for living.”
“What we’re trying to do is to create an economy and environment built for retail, and for living,” Earle said, adding that he and others in his organization will find entrepreneurs within those neighborhoods.
Earle said the zip codes The District is focusing on — 75215 and 75210 — have among the highest child poverty rates in the nation, has nearly 1,000 vacant lots, high incarceration rates, and real estate in sore need of repair and replacement.
“As a day job, I work with the State Fair around gardening, with local folks trying to improve their neighborhood, by building new houses,” Earle said.
“I work with nonprofits, with early childhood education. I’ve got $100 million worth of projects we’re trying to do to rebuild the neighborhoods.”
Impact House, also located in the Fair Park/Exposition Park neighborhood, meanwhile, is set for a July 1 grand opening, and has set its sights on serving as a co-working space, and encouraging small and mid-size businesses to improve their communities.
“I see a lot of major corporations adopting major businesses doing it — you see Starbucks doing it. You see Pepsi do it,” said Benjamin Vann, founder and CEO of Impact House. “We see a lot of the millennial generation coming into the economy, and they don’t see the line between giving back to the community and building wealth.”
“I feel you can’t talk social entrepreneurialism, if you don’t include the voices of the people from the bottom-up level, who are dealing with these challenges.”
Vann said he sees mentorship relationships among established business leaders and budding business people as crucial to building wealth in poor communities.
“If you look at the Dallas stats, we have childhood poverty rates that are the same as in third-world countries,” he said.
“That’s one reason I chose that (Exposition Park/Fair Park) area, because I feel you can’t talk social entrepreneurialism, if you don’t include the voices of the people from the bottom-up level, who are dealing with these challenges.”
The aforementioned ventures join Common Desk and the Kessler Co-Op in Oak Cliff, the Bill J. Priest Institute for Economic Development, and The Cedars Union in the Cedars, in their efforts for providing services and support to entrepreneurs and small businesses in Southern Dallas.
[Photos: Chase Mardis]