Officials with North Charleston’s new facility, The Opportunity Center, cut the ribbon on the building Thursday morning during an open house that offered food and tours of the building to guests.
The Opportunity Center, a new concept for a nonprofit-led economic development hub, was built in 2019 out of a former 31,250-square-foot furniture store off Rivers Avenue.
The construction was buoyed by a $2.7 million grant awarded by the Economic Development Administration in May 2019. In addition, the Coastal Community Foundation provided an $800,000 equity investment from its Place-Based Impact Investing fund. The facility is expected to help create 45 jobs and attract nearly $4 million in private investment.
The project began with a partnership of four South Carolina-based charitable organizations. The Center for Heirs’ Property Preservation, Increasing H.O.P.E., Homes of Hope and the S.C. Association for Community Economic Development boast a combined 75 years of work in the community economic development field. The groups will utilize The Opportunity Center as a headquarters, training center and business incubator all under one roof.
“This innovative space will provide job training, a business incubator and entrepreneurial shared space – as well as a Women’s Business Center, while maintaining offices of local nonprofits actively working in the community economic development sector,” said Dr. Jennie L. Stephens, CEO of the Center for Heirs’ Property Preservation, a nonprofit that helps families and individuals protect their inherited land.
Two business incubator programs, the Business Success Center and the Women’s Business Center, are primary components of the center. These programs will focus on helping small business owners — especially minority and women business owners — grow and sustain operations in the local community.
“Historically, entrepreneurs of color and women have faced challenges establishing, growing and sustaining their enterprises for a variety of reasons, including lack of access to affordable capital, accessing key markets, navigating regulations, and accessing networks that have historically helped white-owned businesses to prosper,” said an Opportunity Center press release. “At the end of 2019, just 11.9% of persons of color in South Carolina owned a business compared to 20% of the white population.”
“It’s so gratifying to see the vision of The Opportunity Center become reality,,” said Stephens. “Economic development isn’t just for for-profit institutions. The Opportunity Center is a unique collaborative place impacting low-wealth communities of the Tri-County and surrounding areas.”