Community reinvestment A source of business opportunity

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Nestled amidst the 39-acre Woodland Road campus of Chatham University, is the Center for Women’s Entrepreneurship. The Center’s mission is to educate, create economic opportunities, and foster entre­pre­neurial thinking for women entrepreneurs, women in business and students.

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EXCITED TO HELP—Breakfast speaker Mona Generett of Dollar Bank, left, and EWC Director Rebecca Harris note that the Center for Women’s Entrepreneurship at Chatham University is geared for business ownership. (Photo by Diane I. Daniels)

The Center for Women’s Entrepreneurship at Chatham University sponsors an array of programs and events providing opportunities for women entrepreneurs in new development and growth stages of their businesses to start to develop and significantly grow their companies. It also provides programming targeted to local and regional women entrepreneurs.

One of the most recent events sponsored by the CWE was the Women Business Leaders Breakfast Series scheduled for the second Friday of each month until June 2011. Mona Generett, Ph.D., formerly the first African-American Dean of Students at Chatham College, served as the December speaker. Addressing a mixed crowd of Chatham University students and officials, a variety of entrepreneurs, city and county economic development professionals, the Vice President of Community Development for Dollar Bank spoke on the topic of “Finding Opportunity in the Strangest Places—Business and Community Reinvestment.”

Her presentation addressed reasons for the deterioration of urban working class and minority neighborhoods within American cities and actions leading up to their development and revitalization with a focus on Pittsburgh neighborhoods throughout the years.

Generett pointed out that the urban decay that has ravished Pittsburgh for decades following the Second World War mostly was caused by discrimination; racially, ethnically and economically stemming from government, banks and the insurance industry. She identified the characteristics as decreasing population, abandoned buildings, old and decaying housing, crime, political disenfranchisement, fragmented families and the absence of insular institutions of higher education.

“Fact,” said Generett, “Beginning in the early 20th century African-Americans, primarily from the south relocated to the inner cities to gain industry jobs.” She pointed out that the large numbers caused White flight, which is known when an influx of European Americans moves to the suburbs.

In the second of four facts she indicated that various federal housing programs, such as highways, and the discovery of systems for the mass production of housing made suburbanization accessible and affordable.

Her third fact explained that mortgage discrimination in the decades of the ‘30s was the norm for banks, government institutions and the like. “Loans were denied primarily based on race, ethnic organ, sex or religion, which was a major cause of urban decay,” Generett pointed out. “Discrimination with the denial rate for Blacks and Hispanics was at 1.6 times that of White Americans was a fact even when differences due to credit worthiness were held constant with FHA loans reaching few minorities.”

She also identified redlining; a pattern of limiting financial services to specific neighborhoods, generally residents of poor or people of color as damaging and totally destructive to many city communities. “Without bank loans and insurance, a redlined area lacked the capital essentials for investment and redevelopment and meant a lack of investment in new businesses and housing, rehabilitation and home improvements,” the banker indicated.

Citing what she considers three ineffective acts, the Equal Credit Opportunity, the Fair Housing and the Civil Right Acts as not bringing about change, Generett said leadership from Chicago community activists ignited a powerful nationwide movement. She outlined how residents deposited their savings solely in banks that committed to reinvesting funds within urban communities. In 1977 as a result of lobbying, the Community Reinvestment Act requiring banks to lend in areas from where their deposits were accepted came about.

“Today many Pittsburgh communities are on the road to recovery as a result of the CRA and the efforts of the Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Act,” said Generett. She listed the South Side, East Liberty and Lawrenceville as three neighborhoods whose revitalization successes provide interesting opportunities.

The comeback of East Carson Street she says is a success story 23 years in the making. She pointed out that the former steelmaking area has added 250 new businesses, renovated 230 storefronts and constructed more than 110 new homes. Utilizing public subsidies, private developers built 99 units of senior affordable housing and more than 55 units of market rate housing through the efforts of the South Side Local Development Corporation and the decade between 1996 and 2006 the median price of South Side homes appreciated nearly three times the median rate of Pittsburgh as a whole. She also mentioned the creation of the South Side Works on the site of the former J&L Steel Mill.

Under the leadership of East Liberty Development Inc., she said the success of Home Depot and

Whole Foods has led to the development of Eastside II consisting of Walgreens, Starbucks, Borders Books, T-Mobile, and FedEx/Kinko’s and other shops including the highest grossing Wine and Spirits store in the state system.

Other East Liberty developments include Bakery Square housing office space for Google, retail space, a 120 room hotel, a coffee shop, a state of the art fitness center and an 800 space parking garage. Target is expected to open in the spring of 2011.

The new area for Children’s Hospital, staffing 3,000, Lawrenceville has developed into a community with a mixed-use-community possessing affordable space for retail and service businesses and large plots of industrial ground ready for commercial or advanced manufacturing.

Other than feeling a sense of pride that Pittsburgh is recognized around the world for its accomplishments in revitalization, Generett reminded the audience that the city is full of opportunity. “Know that the City of Pittsburgh is rich with resources ready to provide assistance. She listed community development corporations, the University of Pittsburgh and Duquesne University Small Business Development Centers, the EWC, the Urban Redevelopment Authority and Pittsburgh Partnership for Neighborhood Development as helpful entities. “Know that the City of Pittsburgh neighborhoods can be your cup of lemonade,” she advised.

As vice president of community development, Generett is responsible for Community Reinvestment and Economic Development. She manages and develops the Bank’s outreach, lending and grant making strategies to low and moderate-income communities, and serves as a catalyst in the creation of products and services, which ensures the Bank’s relevancy to the widest range of individuals and businesses. She is also responsible for the bank’s Credit Enhancement Program that provides “in house” credit counseling to low and moderate-income
borrowers.

Sensitive to issues affecting the well being of others, Generett’s career has focused in the areas of higher education, non-profit administration, federal and municipal government service and banking. Her current community involvement includes serving on the Boards of The Community College of Allegheny County, The Pittsburgh Partnership for Neighborhood Development, The August Wilson Center for African American Culture, AAA East Central Motor Club and the Shadyside Hospital Foundation. She has received numerous accolades for her commitment and service. In the spring of 2010 she was honored by the Pittsburgh Business Times and the Organization, Share and Care for excellence in business. In 2006 she was named Professional Woman of the Year by the National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women’s Club Inc. In 2004, she received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Pittsburgh Community.

Reinvestment Group and in 1998 recognized as the Most Outstanding Community Development Officer and the year prior received the YWCA Tribute to Women Leadership Award.

The five-year-old CWE has been under the leadership of Rebecca U. Harris, MBA, since 2009. Bringing over 20 years of experience as an entrepreneur, consultant, and marketing specialist, Harris’ goal is to expand the strategic initiatives and alliances of the Center. “We do the Women’s Breakfast Series once a month with the hope for our students and participants to get inspired and to take the information and apply it to their lives,” said Harris. The monthly series features prominent regional women business leaders that speak on various business topics.

The next event is scheduled for Jan. 14. at 7:30 a.m. Elise Hyland, president, Commercial Operations at EQT will be the speaker.

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