The goal is to increase diversity in Ocala’s business community
Stacy Warrick and her family came to Ocala in 2016 after living in Orange County, California.
Poised with previous experience owning a small business, opening Karishma Boutique, located at 1925 SW 18th Ct., wasn’t that big of a hurdle for Warrick.
However, business in Ocala didn’t boom quite as loudly as it did in Orange County.
“It’s a good experience,” Warrick said. “But it’s also sad sometimes because there’s not enough people that are coming in to buy stuff… But I’ve gotten tremendous love from the community.”
Warrick is one of many Black business owners in Ocala. But she had something others don’t, prior experience operating a small business.
Elgin Carelock, chairman of the Greater Ocala Community Development Corporation, says he has seen too many people start a business without really knowing the basics.
The GOCDC was established in 1994 in partnership with the Marion County NAACP and Labor and Industry Committee to provide social and economic solutions to West Ocala residents. Now, the GOCDC serves all of Ocala, trying to help build better businesses.
The GOCDC offers a seven-week series that teaches entrepreneurs how to start, run and grow their business.
According to Carelock, one of the program’s graduates has a product selling on Walmart.com and will sell over 500,000 units in 2021.
“What we primarily focus on is offering them the level of service that they would receive if they would go to a consultant service,” Carelock said. “But most of the small businesses certainly can’t afford that.”
The average rate of a quality consultant in Ocala is around $300 an hour, Carelock says.
Meanwhile, with its versatile board of directors, the GOCDC can provide small business owners with consulting and other business services, including building a website affordably. All coaching and mentoring services are free.
“All the aspects of need that they would have, we have on our board,” Carelock said.
The GOCDC partners with local banks to help the small businesses that go through the program.
“We don’t just get them started and throw them out there. We’re there the whole time,” Carelock said.
According to Carelock, the GOCDC maintains a great relationship with the City of Ocala’s Procurement office and the Ocala Metro Chamber & Economic Partnership.
“I applaud the city’s effort on the diversity on the procurement,” Carelock said. “The city, I think, is doing an amazing job trying to get these businesses involved.”
The City of Ocala’s Diverse Small Business Enterprise Program was launched by the procurement office to help “level the playing field” for minority-owned small businesses, said Sheron Lewis-Radcliff the program’s coordinator.
According to Lewis-Radcliffe, to be eligible, a business must be minority-owned, the owner or business must reside in Marion County, and the business’ net worth must be less than $250,000.
If a business checks those boxes, it becomes eligible for contracts that have been set aside, specifically for diverse small businesses.
“A lot of our small businesses, they’re the same way… They’ve been concentrating on building their businesses, and they don’t know a lot. When we say a lot, we mean just the business aspects of business,” Lewis-Radcliffe said. “So, having this program allows them to be exposed to networking events, possible partnerships to help grow their businesses, business education, business information… basically the goal is to help grow their businesses. So, for Ocala, a program like this is kind of putting them on the map, so to speak.”
Programs such as the GOCDC and the city’s program help diversify Ocala’s business landscape.
“The real importance is just the more diversity input, the better the outcome. There’s a famous saying that goes, ‘When all things are the same, none are thinking.’ So if everybody thinks the same way, then you’re only going to get that answer,” Carelock said. “Ocala is growing, and it’s diverse. So, if you don’t have a diversity of decision-making occurring, then you’re just going to miss pockets of your potential markets.”