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Economic justice effort brings center for small businesses to north St. Louis

The entrance to the St. Louis Development Corporation Northside Economic Empowerment Center on Monday at Sumner High School.
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
The entrance to the St. Louis Development Corporation's Northside Economic Empowerment Center on Monday at Sumner High School.

St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones is putting millions of federal COVID relief dollars toward economic initiatives in north St. Louis. The work started with the opening Monday of a new center to encourage economic development in the area.

The Northside Economic Empowerment Center is funded by $1.5 million from the American Rescue Plan Act and is part of the St. Louis Development Corporation.

“While it won't happen overnight, we're working to create change that St. Louisans can see and feel,” Jones said.

Housed at Sumner High School, the center will work to connect small businesses with resources like training, certification and back office support.

At the same time, city and education leaders hope the center’s location in the school will foster partnerships with Sumner families and the surrounding community. St. Louis Public Schools board President Matt Davis said the school had the space, but he also hopes the center will bring opportunities back to the Ville neighborhood.

“We can invest in the classrooms, but if we're not investing in our families, communities, it's not going to make a difference,” Davis said. “We have lost so many families who have left the city and left these neighborhoods, because of all those historical reasons. But now it's such an opportunity that we can take to reinvest and reinvigorate these buildings.”

The center is part of a broader economic justice initiative that the mayor’s administration has been moving into place.

Neal Richardson speaks to Mayor Tishaura Jones, school board member Alisha Sonnier, and SLDC Economic Empowerment Center Manager Nicole Dotson
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis Development Corporation President and CEO Neal Richardson, right, speaks to Mayor Tishaura Jones, in pink; school board member Alisha Sonnier, in purple, and SLDC Economic Empowerment Center manager Nicole Dotson, in black, on Monday during a ribbon-cutting for the Northside Economic Empowerment Center at Sumner High School.

“This economic justice action plan was about not just another plan, but how do we take actionable steps with resources put behind it, to be able to see and feel the impact in these neighborhoods that have been historically marginalized, and underserved,” said Neal Richardson, president and CEO of the St. Louis Development Corporation.

At the center’s opening, Jones announced she has signed the Economic Justice Act, which directs $93 million from the federal American Rescue Plan Act, passed in response to the pandemic, to St. Louis communities that have experienced disinvestment.

The legislation includes funding for affordable housing initiatives, neighborhood stabilization and workforce training. Jones called the act “the first step towards a long process of reversing decades of intentional disinvestment.”

Kate Grumke covers higher education and the many school districts in the region for St. Louis Public Radio.

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