“Bullish on Buffalo”: KeyBank and PathStone Enterprise Center partner to build up Buffalo businesses

In April of 2017, the KeyBank Foundation made a commitment of $1 million to the PathStone Enterprise Center in Buffalo to provide small business owners on the east side of the city with business development education and technical assistance.

PathStone, a private, nonprofit community development and human service organization headquartered in Rochester, established The Enterprise Center in 1997. In 2016, it launched a minority assistance project in the Beverly Gray Business Exchange Center on E. Utica Street and teamed up with KeyBank shortly after.

Over two years have passed since the pact between the center and KeyBank was established; both parties are pleased with what the partnership has created.

“This project is in perfect alignment with our corporate mission,” says Kawanza A. Humphrey, KeyBank’s regional corporate responsibility officer for its Upstate region. “We look to help our clients and communities thrive. This partnership with PathStone is a wonderful tie-in because it allows us to fund an organization that gives small businesses the capital they need to launch or grow. We know when small businesses either start in a neighborhood or grow within a neighborhood, they not only stabilize that community, but they also create jobs. That’s what we’re looking to do through this program.

“We were very familiar with PathStone, especially the work they did in the housing community in Rochester,” notes Humphrey. “We’ve had a longstanding relationship with the organization; it was upon the creation of our community benefits plan (which launched in 2017) that we had the opportunity to fund the work they wanted to do in Buffalo.”

KeyBank’s National Community Benefits Plan pledged $16.5 billion over a five-year period across the 15 states they work with.

“The goal of the community benefits plan is to spark both economic and job growth in the communities that we serve,” says Humphrey. “PathStone had the relationships, so we rely heavily on their work and their expertise in giving the entrepreneurs the technical assistance they need.

“KeyBank has worked with PathStone to integrate our financial wellness message, which is a program we run throughout our retail branch network. This educates consumers on effectively leveraging the financial resources that they have,” continues Humphrey. “We partner with PathStone to do introductions with those that are looking to dive a little deeper into their overall financial wellness.”

From the perspective of the PathStone Enterprise Center, they are pleased with the partnership as well, and what it has done for business owners on Buffalo’s east side.

“KeyBank’s multi-year commitment has been crucial to developing the PathStone Enterprise Center’s capacity to build the business acumen of nascent and existing entrepreneurs while increasing black- and women-owned small business ownership on the east side of Buffalo,” says Terron Grant, the Enterprise Center’s business development officer. “We are excited to be able to lend our expertise, record of success, cultural competency, products, and services to help KeyBank advance their economic development initiatives.”

The Enterprise Center, which is also designated as a Community Development Entity (CDE) under the New Markets Tax Credit Program, is tasked with growing black- and women-owned businesses in Buffalo by 4% over the five-year agreement. They are well on their way to reaching their goal.

“Our goals are twofold: first, to increase black- and women-owned businesses with employees by 15% in five years; and second, to increase black- and women-owned businesses overall in Buffalo by 4% in five years,” Grant notes.

“Since 2017, we have financed 10 existing sole proprietor black- and women-owned businesses in Buffalo and Niagara Falls, resulting in at least 10 employees being hired. That’s a 3.4% increase as of August, 2019,” he adds. “An additional seven loans were given to new businesses and 10 new DBAs, creating at least 17 new black- and women-owned businesses in Buffalo and Niagara Falls.”

Clearly, the KeyBank investment combined with PathStone’s relationships has gone a long way in helping small businesses in the community, including Linda’s Bean Pie Café, a restaurant that is opening in December on East Utica Street.

Owner and chef Linda Maddox-Muhammad is happy to be benefiting from the partnership. “PathStone provided me with the business training I needed to start the café. They helped me build a business plan, basically making my vision become a reality,” she says. “PathStone—with the help of KeyBank—takes you through all the steps. When you’re eligible for a grant, they find a location for your business, which is really great.”

Part of the goal for PathStone and KeyBank is to build community wellness on many levels. To that end, Linda’s will feature a comfortable dining area, fresh organic foods, an event room, and more.

“We created Linda’s Bean Pie Café to be a healthier choice for the community,” says Maddox-Muhammad. “Over half of the products we'll feature are made with navy beans, which are extremely nutritious. Everything will be organic—we’re just sticking to healthy eating.”

Maddox-Muhammad is also excited for the atmosphere she’s creating with the assistance of PathStone and KeyBank.

“We’re going to be a little café where people can come in and eat or, if they’re in a hurry, grab something to go,” says Maddox-Muhammad. “They will be able to sit, listen to some soft jazz, and have a good time with their family.”

KeyBank and PathStone are proud of all the businesses they have assisted in Buffalo and look forward to a bright future in the area.

“We really want more entrepreneurs to access these funds and these services we have available through PathStone,” says Humphrey. “We have these dollars and resources available and we really want to deploy them. It’s really just getting more people through the door that will submit applications so that we can get them to approval.”

She acknowledges that there are challenges and not every story is a success, but she feels the relationship with PathStone is a healthy one that will lead to more success stories.

As for the overall turnaround of Buffalo and where she sees the community going, Humphrey has excitement and enthusiasm.

“I am a native Buffalonian and I am bullish on Buffalo,” Humphrey says. “I love this renaissance that’s occurring here in the community. I’m fascinated by the number of residents in our community who are coming up with fantastic ideas to start businesses. The problems that they are solving in our community are fantastic and there is more to come. KeyBank is delighted to do this work with PathStone and to have the opportunity to partner with other organizations to really help our community thrive.”

Read more articles by Sean Brock.

A native of Western New York, Brock has worked in the field of writing and public relations over the past several years, while also gaining a master’s degree from Canisius College this May. He has worked for several universities and professional sports teams in a public relations capacity during that time, and has always kept a love for writing. In his free time Brock enjoys hiking, history, reading and watching as many baseball and football games as he can.   
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