By Barney Blakeney
The economic disparities that exist in North Charleston’s Lowcountry Alliance for Model Communities (LAMC) neighborhoods didn’t come into existence overnight and those decades-old disparities won’t be eliminated overnight. But LAMC Executive Director Omar Muhammad last week said the 12-year-old organization is working hard to eradicate them.
In 2006 the S.C. State Port Authority gave LAMC’s seven communities $4 million to mitigate the impact of the development of its port facility at the former Charleston Naval Base. Despite challenges, LAMC has used that money to offer services to its member communities. Last week, Muhammad was focused on LAMC’s Business Micro-Loan Program.
The micro-loan program managed by the Local Development Corporation makes loans ranging from $2,500-$50,000 to eligible disadvantaged businesses which operate and hire employees who live in the LAMC communities. LAMC currently is accepting applications for loans, Muhammad said. LAMC has $300,000 it will use to fund the loan program that focuses on providing loans and services to minority contractors, Muhammad said. LAMC has negotiated a deal to commit 15 percent of the total spending for the construction of the port authority’s facility to minority contractors. Technical assistance will be made available to those businesses, he said.
As LAMC moves toward implementing its revitalization plan, economic development will be a major part of their efforts, Muhammad said. Their strategy will focus on creating jobs, businesses and vendor/business support services. Its minority Business Revolving Loan Program provides services and resources to businesses that already exist, are expanding or locating to one of the seven LAMC communities – Accabee, Chicora/Cherokee, Union Heights, Howard Heights, Windsor Place, Five Mile and Liberty Hill. The goal is to expand the number of businesses operating in LAMC communities.
To that end LAMC is building partners and collaborations it hopes will give it leverage to conduct economic development initiatives. Discrimination in lending has given advantages to other ethnic groups while leaving Blacks and other minorities without access to the wealth building tools such as homeownership, Muhammad said. Because poverty is at the root of most social ills, building wealth within communities has to occur to address those issues, he said. Job opportunities that provide livable wages allow families to focus on those issues, he said.
Muhammad cautioned the process is slow. But through collaborations with partners like C.O. Federal Credit Union, S.C. Department of Transportation, S.C. SPA and Palmetto Railroad, business opportunities can exist, “But we have to be serious,” Muhammad asserts.
LAMC community residents have to think about wealth building differently than in the past, he said. There has to be a shift to collective wealth building, he said. Clearly defined responsibilities and communication is key. Communities outside the LAMC collaboration should be developing relationships. And most essential is able leadership, he said.
“In time I think we’ll overcome those barriers,” Muhammad said. “We don’t have a choice. We’ve got to work together to save our communities! If we check the egos and personalities at the door, we’ll be okay.”