Brookfield Properties, the owner of The Oaks Mall, wants to boost the number of minority-owned businesses inside the space.
Its Partner to Empower program will invest up to $25 million over the next five years to support Black- and minority-owned businesses opening locations in Brookfield’s shopping centers, said Michelle Isabel, regional vice president of business development and retail.
The program is expected to span across Brookfield’s shopping malls nationwide by 2025, beginning with the southeast region. Seven other Florida malls are included in the initiative.
“We will do our best to open as many of these retailers in the region as we can,” Isabel said.
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In addition to funding, accepted businesses will participate in a retail workshop led by industry insiders, and receive guidance and support to keep owners on track with their goals. Isabel said the program isn’t just designed to help the businesses open, but to help them remain economically viable.
“The most exciting piece for me is the retail workshop,” she said. “We’ll talk to them about banking, accounting, marketing and more.”
From startups to established brands, all can apply
Whether you’re a veteran business owner looking to expand with a location inside the Oaks Mall or a novice entrepreneur who recently started selling merchandise on Etsy, Isabel said all minority businesses are encouraged to apply for the Partner to Empower program.
“A business that’s been in business for the past 10 years can apply if they’re looking for expansion, but it can also be someone that’s been selling online that’s looking to open their first storefront,” Isabel said. “We’re here to provide opportunities for businesses at all stages.”
Applications are available at brookfieldproperties.com/partnertoempower now through June 18. In addition to general personal and business information, applicants can upload supporting documents such as brand presentations, photos or business plans.
Isabel did not know how many businesses might be accepted through the program in Gainesville, but said Brookfield’s goal is to open between 20 and 25 minority-owned storefronts through the program in the southeast by the end of the year.
Despite the pandemic temporarily shutting down many mall stores, she said, consumers are eager to start shopping again at malls.
“The mall is still a place where people come to gather. It’s also a place where people come to taste and feel and try things on,” Isabel said. “When you’re buying online, whether it’s furniture or apparel, you don’t know exactly what you’re getting until you receive it.”
Gainesville has inclusivity, diversity in mind
Eric Godet, president and chief executive of the Greater Gainesville Chamber, said he’s excited for Partner to Empower to decrease barriers in place for minority business owners to open storefronts.
“It’s been progressing over the years, but it takes time to put programs together that have funding and space,” he said. “We’re really happy that companies are stepping up.”
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The Chamber recently announced its Inclusive Gainesville Initiative, which is aimed at building a more equitable workforce.
“What Brookfield is doing with the Oaks Mall is an integral part of what we’re doing,” Godet said.
He said the challenges facing minority entrepreneurs varies by each person’s situation, but people have in the past expressed to him problems with financing, expertise in specific areas or hiring after undergoing growth.
Many Gainesville businesses in recent years have quietly been making internal changes to improve inclusiveness and diversity, he said.
“It’s great living in a community where people value this and companies are already doing this on their own,” Godet said. “I think the more companies that are open and transparent with doing this, the more people will join in.”