The statistics are becoming all too common. According to U.S. census data, Rochester is ranked seventh in the nation for child poverty. Rochester’s most disadvantaged, high-poverty neighborhoods are clustered around downtown. This degree of concentration far exceeds the national average.
People tend to view the answer to poverty through the lens that provides the most clarity.
For many, the answer is improved education that will only come from addressing our troubled school system. For others, the answer is equipping people with the right workplace skills of the future. A substantial group would propose that creating more jobs that pay at or in excess of livable wages is the answer to poverty in our region.
The answer to poverty is undoubtedly multifaceted. However, we often do not view the answer through the lens of urban entrepreneurship.
There clearly seems to be a pipeline effect that emerges from our current line of thinking — equip people with a basic education, provide them with skills training that will make them highly employable, and then create enough jobs to employ the ranks of educated, highly-skilled people. Logic would dictate that the next step in the pipeline must be the creation of businesses that grow and have the ability to create jobs and hire people.
Entrepreneurs create the type of businesses that grow and hire an educated, skilled workforce. Entrepreneurs use their experiences, abilities, and environment to identify and exploit opportunities that create lasting value and wealth.
More specifically, urban entrepreneurs have a vested interest in seeing that their businesses start and growth within the very communities they reside.
Urban entrepreneurs recognize the economic and social benefit of hiring people within their community and paying them well so that they can adequately provide for their families. Because of their dependence on the local workforce, urban entrepreneurs will often apply part of their wealth toward improving the education system and related workforce training programs.
Therefore, a significant answer to the growing rate of high-poverty neighborhoods in our region is the development of successful urban entrepreneurs.
As a community, we must further understand and provide greater assistance to urban entrepreneurs who take the risk to start and grow their businesses. RIT’s new Center for Urban Entrepreneurship, opening this fall in the heart of downtown at 40 Franklin St., the former Rochester Community Savings Bank building, aims to do just that.
The Center will collaborate with existing organizations to build wealth within the urban community by providing urban entrepreneurs with a central resource for educational programs, customized training, one-to-one mentoring and consulting, and assistance with deal flow.
Delmonize Smith is director of RIT’s Center for Urban Entrepreneurship.