Construction worker working on site

Building an engine of economic growth

Downtown Madison’s new Black Business Hub aims to empower local entrepreneurs — and help close the region’s opportunity gap

Madison, Wisconsin, is known for its beautiful lakeside setting, vibrant cultural scene, bustling major university and importance as Wisconsin’s capital. But the community’s resources and prosperity aren’t available to all. Economic disparities in income, homeownership and business ownership have persisted in the city for generations, notes Ruben L. Anthony, Ph.D., president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Madison (ULGM) — disparities that have made it difficult for people of color in the city to acquire generational wealth. “In our county, Dane County, there are 10,000 businesses with more than one employee, and only about 40 of those are African American-owned,” Anthony says.

Since 1968, ULGM has been striving to close such gaps, offering extensive job training and home ownership programs aligned with the organization’s mission of ensuring that Black/African Americans and others in the community are educated, employed and empowered to live well and advance professionally. Now ULGM is taking a big step forward with the launch of the Black Business Hub, an 80,000-square-foot center located in an economically distressed area of Madison that will be a one-stop shop for current and aspiring entrepreneurs.

“The intent is for the Black Business Hub to be a transformational project for our region, providing the physical space to incubate, nurture and accelerate businesses as well as offering a whole ecosystem of support services,” says Edward Lee, executive vice president and COO of ULGM. The building includes offices and co-working spaces, space for eight to ten retail stores, a restaurant, pop-up vending spaces for microbusinesses, and a commercial kitchen, all available to rent at below-market rates. Entrepreneurs also have access to training and mentoring, business plan assistance, opportunities to network and access to other small business development resources. “The Hub will offer peer support, giving entrepreneurs the chance to be around others who have the same experience,” Lee says. “The building will be a community.”

With flexible grants and loans of as much as $50,000, an on-site credit union, two on-site community development financial institutions and financial training available on a floor the ULGM is dubbing a “Black Wall Street,” the Hub will offer extensive economic development tools. “We have accelerator programs to help new and inexperienced businesses become better at what they’re doing, and more intense ones to help experienced businesses scale up and get in front of investors,” says Anthony. An entrepreneur with an at-home baking business, for example, could expand by using the Hub’s commercial kitchen, later rent one of the retail spaces and eventually launch a store in another part of the city, using the training and connections they’ve gotten from the Hub. “This is an economic development engine that’s going to give back to this community for many decades to come,” Anthony says.

The Hub is expected to be at over 50% capacity by the end of 2023, and Anthony firmly believes it will have an economic impact not just on the local community but on the entire region. “Without the kind of support that Bank of America continues to give us, we would not have as many of the opportunities to train businesses or make our resources available to these entrepreneurs,” he says. “We’re very thankful for this strong partnership that helps us build dreams and change lives.”

The support for the Urban League of Greater Madison is one example of Bank of America’s long-standing commitment to support economic opportunity for diverse people and communities.