Hundreds and hundreds of community leaders, stakeholders, politicians, business leaders, and more gathered in cold April weather on Friday afternoon to see a historic day in Madison — the launching of the Urban League of Greater Madison’s $25.5 million, four-story Black Business Hub in South Madison that has plans to become the Madison region’s premiere enterprise center devoted to incubating, accelerating, and networking diverse businesses and entrepreneurs.
Urban League of Greater Madison President and CEO Dr. Ruben Anthony said the Black Business Hub and the Urban League, which hopes to be ready to open in early 2023, will help create “a new pipeline of businesses to not only serve South Madison but to serve Dane County and the region as a whole.”
“Over the past couple of years, I’ve heard from so many people who have indicated that they want to start a business, but most simply need a little help, or they need a start, they need a push. Well, I’m here to tell you the day that help is on the way. We are getting ready to make it happen here in South Madison,” Anthony told the crowd. “We are getting ready to put a shovel in the ground today. So many of you have answered the call and have risen to help this project be possible.”
The Hub will be home to retail and other businesses owned by Black and other entrepreneurs of color ranging from start-ups to established businesses looking to expand and/or take on storefront locations for the first time. The Hub will also integrate mission-based commercial and retail uses including a wide variety of innovative economic and entrepreneurship activities including food, personal care, financial services, entertainment, technology, co-working space, a rentable commercial kitchen, and much more.
“To all of our donors, future tenants and community members who continuously support this project: Together, we are going to make history,” Anthony said. “We’re going to build an economic development engine right here in South Madison that will continue to bear economic fruit for multiple generations.
“This will be the gift that will keep on giving to our kids and our grandkids,” he added. “This investment in the Black Business Hub will allow us to grow significantly brown and Black businesses and Dane County in the region as a whole.”
Anthony told the crowd that today there are over 10,000 businesses in Dane County with more than one employee. “But for African Americans, we’re only four-tenths of a percent of that number. So that means in all of Dane County, we have less than 40 businesses with more than one employee. We got to change that,” he said. “This statistic is five times worse than the national average which is 2.2%. I know that Dane County could do better and this investment will help us change. By 2025. We expect to help at least 100 businesses launch or expand for the hub.”
Gov. Tony Evers said that the Black Business Hub will be “76,000 square feet of innovated innovation and ingenuity here in Madison.”
“I couldn’t be happier to be part of this groundbreaking ceremony. It is a great day for Wisconsin and a great day for Madison. This is a communities project that’s going to succeed because it was built by the entire community. And I’m proud that the state of Wisconsin was able to play a part by providing a $5 million investment through our Neighborhood Investment Fund grant program,” Evers says. “We created that program with projects like the Black Business Hub in mind … projects that would leverage community support, be collaborative and innovative, and would help to ensure the entire state recovers from this God-awful pandemic.
“I think it’s safe to say that this is exactly what the Black Business Hub will be doing — connecting the dots between entrepreneurs and small business owners, not only to open brick and mortar shops, but to help them with financial assistance and access to capital, technical assistance and networking … all the while creating jobs right here in the community,” Evers added. “You know, the thing that’s most exciting to me is this: When we invest in small businesses, our communities see direct impact almost instantaneously. Small businesses are more likely to buy their supplies locally, hire locally and give back to their communities.”
Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway mentioned that the City of Madison donated the land for the hub and dedicated city staff time.
“We’re going to continue to invest about $10 million in this site to improve the Village on Park and to deliver the physical infrastructure that this hub will need to succeed. We are betting on South Madison,” Rhodes-Conway said. “We are betting on Black businesses and we are betting on the Urban League. And I want to thank Dr. Ruben Anthony for his leadership and the entire team here for making this possible today.”
The ceremony also featured remarks from Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi, Southside Alder Sheri Carter, State Rep. Shelia Stubbs, Madison Black Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Camille Carter, Summit Credit Union Presiden Kim Sponem, ULGM Campaign Co-Chair Derrick Smith, and Marie Justice, a Madison-area entrepreneur and small business owner
“Madison institutions with power and resources .. will you be willing to shift the way we view economic justice, realizing that supporting for-profit Black business owners is quite possibly the most radical and effective way to help Black people secure a spot on the Monopoly board?” Justice asked. “Because it seems that I need to remind everyone of one simple fact, we actually have to be on the board to play along.”