The new year brings new hope to the Pittsburgh region, says Keith Giles

A SUPPORTER OF BUILDING STRONG BUSINESSES—Executive Director of the Riverside Center for Innovation, Keith Giles, knows the importance of business ownership. (Photos by Diane I. Daniels)

A 2018 Nielsen report emphasizes that African American dollars matter. African Americans make up 14 percent of the population and are responsible for approximately $1.2 trillion in purchases annually, the study said.
“Money is our most powerful tool, it is just as powerful as our vote,” says Nielsen’s Senior Vice President, Global Communications and Multicultural Marketing, Andrew McCaskill.
“(From) an economic development standpoint it is just as important for African Americans to own and operate businesses,” says Juan Garrett, executive director of the Riverside Center for Innovation, citing spending power and business ownership as key to the African American community. Currently there are 28 projects worth $1 billion under construction in Downtown Pittsburgh and its fringes with more in the pipeline, Garrett said.
With the goal of fostering small business growth, the Riverside Center for Innovation considers themselves a business “work tank” that incubates businesses, providing resources and help to become successful. “We work with clients to provide accounting, public relations, risk management, research, and help with real estate ventures,” explained Garrett.
The center also partners with other business assistance entities, which provide connections to help businesses grow, including Kiva. Kiva Pittsburgh is an initiative that assists area entrepreneurs access capital via its website,, to start or grow a business. Based in California, Kiva offers 0 percent interest microloans for businesses in the U.S.
SELF-SUFFICENCY IS KEY—Juan Garrett, executive director and founder of First Step Recovery Homes Inc., knows the value of African Americans utilizing, spending and investing their wealth wisely.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh, the city’s economic development agency, committed to creating jobs, expanding the city’s tax base and improving the vitality of businesses and neighborhoods, understands the perils facing entrepreneurs. Through its Micro-Enterprise Loan Program, according to Jennifer Wilhelm, assistant director of the URA’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, the program provides financing for startups and small businesses that need capital to launch or grow. As part of the URA’s strategy to promote opportunities for groups who have not had access to business financing in the City of Pittsburgh, including minority- and women-owned businesses, Wilhelm said the program provides loans of up to $20,000 for working capital, equipment, inventory, and leasehold improvements. “We designed the program to reduce as many barriers to access as possible. There is no credit score requirement, the interest rate is 2 percent fixed, and we even have resources to assist individuals in completing their loan applications.”
Wilhelm also pointed out that several professional business assistance providers have been contracted to assist applicants finalize their business plan and financial projections, which are a required part of the application and that a business plan template to help individuals get started with their draft can be provided. “The Micro-Enterprise Loan Program has only been up and running since May 2018, and already it’s exceeded expectations,” Wilhelm said mentioning that to date, the URA has closed on 15 loans, 14 of which were minority (nine specifically minority) or women-led and committed $268,371. Sample funded businesses include a food business, retail shops, salons, and an electrician. Any business starting or growing business owner she says should contact Lynnette Morris at 412-255-6547 or
Located in the Mon Valley and operating under the principle of self-sufficiency, Keith Giles, CEO and founder of First Step Recovery Homes Inc., agrees with the thinking of McCaskill and Garrett. “We are living in a time that it is imperative African Americans utilize, spend and invest their wealth wisely as well as provide the resources, products and services for the wealth to stay within our neighborhoods.”
Providing supervised, temporary, safe drug and alcohol-free structured housing and support services for persons recovering from the disease of addiction, First Step has helped its residents recognize their personal purpose and instilled confidence, a sense of vision and perseverance; all elements of entrepreneurship in over 300 men. Some former residents have gone on to become entrepreneurs. Their businesses include construction, home remodeling, a barber shop, catering and parking lot ownership. In-house businesses have included a moving company, lawn care, catering and a car wash. The organization’s vision for 2019 and beyond is to pattern the 41-year-old California-based Delancy Street Foundation. “Our vision,” says Giles, “is to provide long-term residential housing and vocational training, education and basic life skills to ex-offenders, former drug and alcohol abusers and homeless individuals. The aim is for residents to lead a productive crime-free, drug-free life of purpose and integrity leading to self-sufficiency.”
Well beyond the startup stage, several minority- and women-owned businesses are contributing to the economic base of the region by providing jobs and a variety of services. Seven African American-owned and two African American women-owned firms are listed as top 25 businesses in the 35th annual Pittsburgh Business Times “Book of Lists,” considered the region’s most comprehensive listing of businesses and organizations. Listed as the top two minority-owned firms are Moriarty Consultants and Rice Enterprises LLC. Also listed are All Purpose Cleaning Service Inc., (No. 8), Allegheny Housing Rehabilitation Corp. (No. 12), Savoy Restaurant (No. 15), Waller Corporation (No. 17), and The Wilson Group (No. 21).
Giles and Garrett agree with McCaskill that voting power is important in the African American community. “Politics plays a major role,” says Giles, excited that the Mon Valley now has minority representation in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. “Austin Davis from McKeesport and Summer Lee from Braddock bring a new perspective and ideas to the Mon Valley, an area that has potential and great economic value to the region.”
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