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Effort to shift City of Omaha funds to minority business development fizzles, for now

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Effort to shift City of Omaha funds to minority business development fizzles, for now

Sep 12, 2023 | 6:45 pm ET
By Cindy Gonzalez
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Effort to shift City of Omaha funds to minority business development fizzles, for now
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City Councilwoman Juanita Johnson said she will continue her pursuit of city funding for minority business development. Photo is North 24th and Lake Streets looking south. (Cindy Gonzalez/Nebraska Examiner)

OMAHA — Inspired by the number of North Omaha merchants seeking State of Nebraska grants to rev up business, City Councilwoman Juanita Johnson on Tuesday asked the City Council to commit $1 million for a city effort.

The request got no traction from fellow council members, who said it came too late in the city budget approval process.

After hearing from about 15 proponents, Council Vice President Aimee Melton said she could not support “moving a million dollars around at the last minute.”

Johnson’s request called for shifting funds in the proposed annual budget — away from places such as library and park allocations — to support the small business development initiative she said is key to her district and overall city economic growth.

Under Johnson’s proposal, the $1 million was to go to the Omaha 100 nonprofit, which would use and distribute the funds to help minority businesses grow. 

Johnson, whose district encompasses North Omaha, had attended a weekend community forum during which constituents sought clarity on a state program poised to infuse $225 million in grants for North and South Omaha economic development.

She said her proposal to the council intended to “echo” the state’s commitment to communities that suffered historical neglect that was then exacerbated by the pandemic.

Backers Tuesday included State Sen. Terrell McKinney, a sponsor of the state legislation. The Nebraska Department of Economic Development is now determining how to allocate the state funding earmarked in the Nebraska Economic Recovery Act.

Among other speakers was Frank Hayes, who owns a public accounting firm in Omaha. He said many minority-owned businesses didn’t grasp the federal Paycheck Protection Program — intended to help keep merchants afloat in the pandemic — and are still struggling from the setback.

Malinda Williams, president and CEO of Omaha 100, said her research showed only 53 minority-owned businesses received a PPP loan in 2020, or 1.27% of the total Nebraska-based business recipients.

Businessman James Overton said that while the request made by Johnson would not cover the need, “It’s still a boost.”

Johnson said she’ll continue to work to gain city funding for small business ventures, a category she said was slighted during earlier allocations by the City of Omaha of federal pandemic funds.