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Making way for Black women-owned business in Rochester

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. — A minority and women-owned business enterprise policy from the city of Rochester is setting municipal business hiring goals to include companies from those groups.

Paula Howard’s sweet smell of success smells like sandalwood, or gin, or anything you want.

“You know many people would say: why are you doing your own business? You have a career,” Howard said.


What You Need To Know

  • A minority and women-owned business enterprise policy from the city of Rochester is setting municipal business hiring goals to include companies from those groups
  • The MWBE also stipulates that any city economic development projects have 20% minority and 6.9% female workforce goals
  • Those include public works construction projects, public works consultants, professional service consultants and professional services consultants

Paula did, with the U.S. Mail, and then, in telecom. But after she moved her family to Rochester from New York City, both, went away.

“I know it would be work for people,” she said. “It’s work for me. But I enjoy it. I enjoy getting up and doing it. I enjoy talking about it, until someone tells me I’m done.”

And now with a shop in the city’s 19th ward, and a landmark space at the market in Rochester, and in Buffalo and Syracuse, Paula’s Essentials is the latest Black businesswoman in Rochester to set roots and inspire.

And in the city’s South Wedge, Connie Marple guides every visitor on a tour of Women of Color of New York, the co-op she runs. Nine business ladies deliver services and energy to a neighborhood adding to an entrepreneurial recipe for success.

“I love to see the women coming together and building their brands and meeting new customers and having their followers come in,” she said. “I love being part of that.”

Rochester has a minority and women-owned business enterprise program established by the Lovely Warren administration that expects them to be considered for any municipal business possible, whether it’s public works, or other work available. City economic development projects have 20% minority and 6.9% female workforce goals.

“We’re stronger together, right,” she said. “And iron sharpens iron. So, we knew we have something to offer each other.”

There are 1,111 businesses on the Black Owned Business Rochester website. Paula and Connie’s are among 37 personal care operations. Only beauty shops, restaurants, retail and apparel make up more of the B-O-B Rochester community. Women-owned among them, remain in the minority.

“We want to be part of the economic growth of the greater Rochester area,” she said. “It’s best for us who understand these troubles to work together to get through some of the key barriers, for now.”

What the Greater Rochester Black Business Alliance works at is convening partners who see what’s needed: support for entrepreneurs like Paula from local lenders and companies that can collaborate.

“I enjoy making my own decisions for me,” she said.

They are proving to groups like the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce what challenges remain and why having businesses like these in struggling neighborhoods, and across the region, brings results.

“People who want to create change are thinking they’re doing things to create change,” she said, “But they’re thinking about it from the standpoint of what they always did, and what they always thought would work.”

Paula won’t take that for an answer, which helps when applying for grants. One she received during the pandemic helped her hire an intern and expand her operation.

Connie reinvented herself with a college degree to bring her co-op to life, and run her wing of it, a fashion boutique.

“You know, maybe I should feel scared,” she said. “But I don’t. I don’t feel afraid. I feel fine. I feel secure. I feel our feet are on the ground. And I feel our train is on the track and we’re heading in the right direction.

Growing state and local efforts to introduce new lines of opportunity are showing people running their own business that they can apply.

“When you’re doing what you want to do, and you enjoy doing it, you don’t really count,” she said. “You just do. You just do.”

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