Vision View Fresno

Vision View Business Formation Center is taking part in a community investment trust, inviting small investors an opportunity to collectively own the 33,000 square-foot business support facility. Photo by Frank Lopez

published on August 16, 2022 - 1:29 PM
Written by Jeanne Kuang

With August marking the beginning of National Black Business Month, building generational wealth is a top priority in the community — including in the Central Valley.

George Floyd’s murder at the hands of Minneapolis police in 2020 sparked a movement of empowerment in the Black community, especially in the financial sector.

Fresno’s Vision View Business Formation Center has launched a community investment trust, where residents can invest as little as $100 for a stake in real estate.

The model is based on Mercy Corps in Portland, whose community investment trust offers a long-term path to collective ownership of real estate from $10 to $100 per month. Fresno is one of five cities across the country participating in a study on the model.

Vision View is offering its 33,000-square-foot campus near Fresno Yosemite International Airport as a model for families to have a stake in the property. The program was spearheaded by John Haines, who launched the program in Portland as the executive director of Mercy Corps’ Community Investment Trust.

Purchased out of foreclosure, Plaza 122 in southeast Portland was the first building to be part of the program, which Haines described as a new financial product in a 2021 interview with Oregon Public Broadcasting. It pays investors an annual dividend based on the performance of the property and share value, and it is loss protected, allowing investors to get their money out at any point, he added.

“It’s really aimed at people who are at the sidelines of investing,” Haines said.

That’s the goal for Fresno’s Vision View program — a first of its kind for the region.

“We’re looking to on-ramp 100 families beginning in August,” said Lynisha Senegal, CEO of Vision View, a vocational training and entrepreneurship program.

Real estate is one of the biggest areas of opportunity to grow generational wealth in Black communities, she said.

Senegal said that for the business community, assistance should come in the form of cash infusion. During the pandemic, the biggest challenge for minority-owned businesses was scaling their business online without necessarily having the technology and tools to do so.

Scaling a business online involves time and money spent on marketing, new apps and software to run the business.

“If there were cash infusion opportunities or grant opportunities that would be specific to those needs, I think that would be a great opportunity,” she said.

As far as the pandemic relief grants offered through the city and county, most were in amounts around $5,000 and were helpful for payroll, rent or utilities. The downside was that many were funded on a lottery system, she said, leaving some businesses out in the cold.

“There was still a disproportionate amount of minority businesses that ended up having to close,” Senegal said.

For minority businesses to be a part of the long-term growth in the community, there needs to be access to capital.

“This is stuff that’s not taught in school, and it’s not something that’s learned just in the course of doing business,” Senegal said.

She suggests models that include prosperity coaches who would guide Black business owners in handling their money, managing their borrowing power and formulating business plans.


Technology’s edge

Atlanta-based Kinly, a banking platform that specifically serves the Black community, was founded for that purpose.

Donald Hawkins, founder and CEO of Kinly, said that like many others, he was enraged over the murder of George Floyd.

“When George Floyd was murdered, I went to sleep that night troubled, bothered, upset, every other synonym. And I asked myself is there anything meaningful that I could do to make our world, our country a better place for my kids, my family, my community,” Hawkins said.

Hawkins said he is the third generation in his family to fight for civil rights and an equal playing field in health care, education and finance. Using his own financial expertise, he wanted to be part of helping Black business owners access loans and build wealth.

He said a lot of companies advertise toward Black America, but few companies have the representation to back it up.


Education is key

Education is key to building generational wealth, too.

Many Black-owned businesses struggle with setting up the correct business structure or writing a business plan. But the Fresno Metro Black Chamber of Commerce helps entrepreneurs write a plan and access capital — something they started doing in 2021.

“It takes a team to build a business,” said Rick Keyes, capital access manager for the chamber’s Kiva hub.

Kiva is a crowdfunding, zero-interest loan program that helps entrepreneurs establish their businesses. Kiva has helped, but it doesn’t stop there, he said. Keyes described it as an entry-level process in lending.

“There’s a lot more work to be done,” he said. “We need to create more businesses that are stable and sustainable. And they’re growing, so that’s an opportunity to pass that wealth down.”

He said business success requires that people have the temperament to be married to their business startup for more than three to five years. He explained that often owners become absent after opening the doors and getting their business running successfully.

“You give everything you got to it — that’s business ownership. You’ve got to be willing to sacrifice,” Keyes said.

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