Augusta Office Solutions CEO, Garnett Johnson wishes Bank of America’s new CSRA Entrepreneurship training program was around when he grew up on the east side of Augusta before the turn of the century.
“From a black perspective where I grew up we idolized professional football or basketball players or even people committing crimes,” said Johnson.
Johnson said his dreams back then never included entrepreneurship, and that’s why he’s willing to volunteer to help with this public/non-profit partnership between Bank of America (BOFA) and the Greater Augusta Black Chamber of Commerce (GABCC), to which he’s one of 100 + proud black and minority owned business owners in the membership group.
“It’s bringing two great champions together. There are many challenges for people of color. Small business is the backbone of our community,” he added, while sitting in his 1000 square foot conference room on Telfair Street, along with Ora Parish and Marissa Smith, President and Executive Vice President of Bank of America Augusta/Aiken, and GABCC Co-Founder/President Ronic West.
Ms. West has pushed for grant money and extra training with various banks and others since the pandemic hit in March 2020. “Our black and minority business owners in our area are still in dire need. Many did not receive Covid relief funds and are working through major business transitions. West says statistics bear out that a much higher rate of black and minority owned businesses closed after the pandemic vs. white owned businesses.
She has closely followed government agencies responsible for these type of pilot programs in Athens, Macon and Albany, and of course financial institutions.
“Bank of America came to bat first,” she said.
Formed in 2017, GABCC is a historically Black chamber of commerce in the greater Augusta area that supports minority-owned, women-owned, disadvantaged, and black-owned businesses throughout the Central Savannah River area. Any business owners meeting that criteria can apply for the program.
“Our focus is driving economic growth, employment and racial equality,” said BOFA’s Parish.
Parish’s team is often a presenting sponsor of many CSRA Chamber of Commerce initiatives, but when Ms. West persevered, felt a special calling on this need for the GABCC.
“This innovative approach is a holistic view of business in Augusta and this has a chance to be a sustainable program. We hope to be a catalyst for the growth engine, “added the Market President.
EXECUTING THE PROGRAM
The total investment by BOFA in Augusta is $125,000. The initiative is part of the bank’s $1.25 billion, five-year commitment to advance racial equality and economic opportunity by focusing on small business, jobs and up-skilling, health and housing.
(25) $3,000 grants are set aside for businesses and $50,000 for training and administrative services during the 10 week program, which includes four weeks of courses on the following: Introduction to Entrepreneurship, Business Planning Basics, Business Structure 101, Bookkeeping & Recordkeeping, Business Insurance 101, Business Marketing/Branding 101, Growing Your Business and Obtaining Your First Customer, Credit Essentials, Reporting and Tracking cash flow, and Running a successful Business.
The additional six weeks of coaching and mentorship are a critical component of the program to ensure that participants stay engaged, are taking actionable next steps, and have the support they need to succeed. The grant money will come upon the completion of certain criteria by the business owners. An orientation program is going on now and is open for registration at www.gabcfund.org.
This could just be the beginning. Should Ms. West prove this proof of concept program through early 2022, BOFA may provide more grant money or invest in a CDFI, Community Development Financial Institution. This is a program where other entities contribute. Eventually the GABCC may become a micro-lender through the SBA and administer loans to worthy black and minority businesses.
“Our goal since inception has been to become a micro-lender and bring in innovative programming for small business owners we see in other markets, but not the CSRA.
“This grant is just a starting place, said Parish. We’ll also offer financial literacy, guidance, and our team will establish relationships and provide access to more capital and provide whatever level of assistance to enable growth..
We want to connect, serve and follow the life path of these businesses, “Parish added.
“The partnership with Bank of America will help to carry out GABCC foundation’s mission to enhance the CSRA community through innovative, effective, and equitable programming,” said West. “Our continued mission is to foster economic stability for businesses in the CSRA through advocacy, education, networking, discovery, and these strategic partnerships.” Since 2017, West has led 300 workshops, meetings and seminars, many virtual to be of help, but realized this program could be a game-changer for black and minority-owned businesses.
GABCC will keep track of metrics and goals to show what money was used for and success rates in hopes of expanding the program in 2022.
FULL CIRCLE GIVE-BACK
“I had inspirational teachers and a praying mother and a lot of pitfalls growing up, “said Johnson who left a sales career from a global “big box” company to start Augusta Office Solutions in 2010 with no employees. He says banks laughed at his request of a line of credit and he empathizes with entrepreneurs who are up at night with cash flow worries.
He now has 40 “teammates” as he calls his staff, including his wife Toni who left an established position with the Augusta Convention and Visitors Bureau to join Garnett on the journey. “I started this company against the advice of everyone but my wife.”
Mr. Johnson will juggle company leadership with mentoring in late 2021 for some of the 25 recipients of the grant and will ramp up his Augusta Mayoral campaign for a November 2022 election.
It’s all part of Garnett’s plan to give back. “This company is the toughest thing I’ve ever done and most rewarding. This Entrepreneur program gives hope and resources to create jobs for young folks. I’m all in on this,” he added.
He says the chances of retiring from a company now with consolidation, is very difficult.
“Now kids in the neighborhood see you can grow up learn a trade like plumbing and then own a plumbing business.”
For more information visit mygabc.org and www.gabcfund.org
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