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Cedar Valley Cultivates an Inclusive Community 

Minority-owned businesses find success in the Cedar Valley region thanks to a variety of resources and innovative programs. 

By Teree Caruthers on November 11, 2022

ReShonda Young talks with business owner Rosie Daniel of LuLit’s Hair Essence at Newton’s Paradise Cafe in Waterloo, Iowa, U.S. October 27, 2021. Photo by Brenna Norman for the Center for Public Integrity.
Brenna Norman

Studies have shown that diversity in business helps strengthen a community’s economy. The Cedar Valley region not only embraces diversity but also helps foster a sense of inclusion through a number of programs and resources aimed at producing more minority-owned businesses.

This wasn’t always the case, however. For example, in 2018, a 24/7 Wall Street report named WaterlooCedar Falls the worst city in the country for African Americans. As a result, the 24/7 Black Leadership Advancement Consortium (24/7 BLAC) was formed to address many of the economic disparities cited in the report.

Closing the Wealth Gap

“The programming that has come about has been the result of the 24/7 Wall Street report and has been specifically designed to address those things that put [the region] on that report,” says ReShonda Young, director of the Black Business & Entrepreneurship Accelerator, a program of 24/7 BLAC. “There’s an investment group and a homeownership program, which offers participants $2,500 in down payment assistance. Then there is the business accelerator, which supports small business owners and helps them be able to grow their businesses so that their businesses are sustainable. Then, they can hopefully provide employment to others.”

The idea for the accelerator was birthed in September 2020 as many businesses were forced to close due to the pandemic.

“So many Black businesses were closing during COVID, and many were not able to access PPP funding. The accelerator started because a group of people said, ‘We’re going to do this, and hopefully, the funding will follow.’ Thankfully, it did,” Young says. “Our first group went through a six-month process, learning everything from marketing to customer discovery. We walked them through the process and had them actually pitch their business idea. We also walked them through the financial aspects of business ownership and helped them form community relationships through our partnerships with other organizations.”

“There are far more resources out here now, and you see people coming out of their shells and believing in themselves and taking advantage of those resources.”

Taneia Galloway, Doll House Bundles

Maximizing Resources

Young herself is a proven entrepreneur, having founded and franchised a popcorn business, Popcorn Heaven, before selling the company in 2019. She says one reason she chose to get involved with 24/7 BLAC and the accelerator program is that she remembers how difficult it was to find resources when she started her business.

“The work that I’m doing — I’ve basically been doing for free for Black business owners for years because when I started, I didn’t have anybody to help me. … It was always my goal to be able to pass along nuggets of information and some guidance to other people so that they wouldn’t have to go through all of the things that I went through,” Young says. “Historically, we just have not had the ecosystem of support that the broader community has had, so these types of programs have been a way for businesses to be able to come together as a group and be able to get support not just from the Black community, but from the broader community.”

Young says the accelerator has helped launch several businesses into retail spaces. Five of the program’s participants have even had their products placed in the local Hy-Vee grocery store.

ReShonda Young at her home office in the Highland neighborhood in Waterloo, Iowa, U.S. October 23, 2021. Photo by Brenna Norman for the Center for Public Integrity.
Brenna Norman

Making Connections

Taneia Galloway, the owner of Doll House Bundles, a salon and hair extension retailer, says she sees an expansion of Black businesses in the Cedar Valley region as more resources, such as the Black Business & Entrepreneurship Accelerator (BBEA), become available.

“There are far more resources out here now, and you see people coming out of their shells and believing in themselves and taking advantage of those resources and perfecting their craft and investing in themselves,” Galloways says. “The BBEA program really was amazing. I met some awesome people and connected with different Black businesses I didn’t even know existed, so it was good for us to come together. Although I’ve been in business for eight years, there were so many things that I learned. I think I am well groomed and set up to operate my business to be successful.”

If you’d like to learn more about the Cedar Valley area, check out the latest edition of Livability: Cedar Valley, Iowa

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