FORT WORTH, Texas — Minority entrepreneurs and minority-owned businesses often complain of an uneven playing field when seeking financing for projects, development and investment. An initiative announced in Fort Worth on Wednesday aims to change that in a big way.
CDFI (community development financial institutions) are at work throughout the United States, and have been active for more than 30 years, focusing financing on Black, Latino and other underserved communities.
Now, the City of Fort Worth has committed $3 million toward an effort called CDFI Friendly Fort Worth: a go-between and advocate connecting residents, business, and non-profits with CDFIs motivated to offer capital to communities in need.
"Fort Worth has really for a long time struggled, frankly, to focus in our communities that need us most, especially our Black and Hispanic communities that have amazing businesses that really teeter every month to month to just make it," said Fort Worth Mayor Mattie Parker.
Mark Pinsky, founder of CDFI Friendly America, said 1,250 CDFIs are involved in all 50 states. He predicts up to $250 million in new CDFI lending in Fort Worth in the next five years with the new effort supported by the city.
"Last I looked this morning, we have 85 requests for financing," Pinsky said, of the CDFI Friendly Fort Worth website where individuals, businesses, and non-profits can inquire about financing opportunities. "We are looking for opportunities right now. We have a number of entrepreneurs who are already in contact."
Willie Rankin of LVT Rise was among those who attended the kickoff event on Wednesday. His organization has long been an advocate for the needs of residents and businesses in the south Fort Worth neighborhood of Las Vegas Trail, connecting those in need with available resources. He said he is encouraged by this new potential source of financing.
"This meeting helped me understand that the answer is yes, there is something out there for you," Rankin said. "Understanding that there are resources for our non-profit that we can get access to to help us sustain our mission and help us to continue to provide services in the community."
"So, I came down here as fast as I could," said entrepreneur and software and game developer Lloyd Buster, who said he only heard about the initiative that very morning.
"When I heard about this I was like no, this is too good to be true. But it's too good to pass up," said Buster.
Eager to get financing for his fledgling company he's had difficulty getting the attention of lenders in the past.
"I don't want to feel like, oh, it's just me or because I'm Black, or a minority, or anything like that, but in some cases, that's exactly what it is," said Buster.
By the end of the Wednesday morning event, he was meeting multiple potential CDFI lenders face to face.
"This is like a kid on Christmas morning," said Christina Brooks, chief equity officer and diversity and inclusion department director with the City of Fort Worth.
"It's fertile ground here. And I think the time is right, and we're just grateful to be in a position to deliver something for the community," she said.
CDFI industry data shows that Fort Worth has seen just $39 per person in CDFI financing over 15 years, far less than the national average of $235 per person.
"CDFI Friendly Fort Worth will change that," Brooks said, of the effort to increase financing for Forth Worth's minority-owned businesses, affordable homeownership, rental housing and commercial real estate.
"People are really committed to making this work because it's the right thing to do for the community of Fort Worth," said Pinsky.
Pinsky said the effort is now a $220 billion nation-wide CDFI industry.
They also announced that PeopleFund, a CDFI based in Austin with an office in Fort Worth, will soon establish a BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) Business Accelerator in Forth Worth in the coming months.