Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League, on Tuesday afternoon hailed its St. Louis chapter as the “best and largest affiliate” among the 92 nationwide.
He also announced that an entrepreneurship center would be opening in a former Commerce Bank building at Newstead and Natural Bridge.
“They just keep building the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis,” he said of local president and CEO Mike McMillan.
“Like your Urban League partner, this will probably be the best hub for entrepreneurship in America.”
St. Louis will be home to the 13th National Urban League Entrepreneurship Center, and the site will also house the St. Louis Women’s Business Center.
“We want this to be an ecosystem of support. This allows the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis to expand its voice. It can expand its voice and say, “You need to do more business with black-owned companies,” Morial said.
Morial said the center’s doors are not closed to small business owners, but “our focus is on black entrepreneurs.”
“That’s because black-owned businesses have been marginalized and ignored. There are 2.5 million of these companies in America and 90 have a single employee, the owner.”
“Imagine the impact if everyone hired two more people. That would be five million more people working. This center is about wealth accumulation and income.”
According to the Urban League, 75% of entrepreneurs who use their services improve their company’s financial prospects. They offer management consulting, mentoring and training services aimed at developing managerial skills that can help minority entrepreneurs grow their business, obtain financing or contracts, and maintain or create jobs.
Most participants who use an Urban League center are African American women entrepreneurs whose businesses are in the early stages of development.
“We’d like to see hundreds of companies across the region creating jobs and economic opportunities for people who never had them,” McMillan said.
“We want to make sure our movement is as relevant today as it was when we started.”
John W. Kemper, President and CEO of Commerce Bancshares, Inc. and Chairman of the Board of Directors of Commerce Bank, said “it’s bittersweet” to hand over the Urban League’s 100-year-old former bank building. The bank had moved across the street a few years ago and the building was empty.
“The Urban League’s track record is second to none. It caught our attention. When that opportunity arose, we seized it,” he said.
“Small companies are the backbone of this [region], and this is especially true for black and brown communities. We could have moved away. We crossed the street.
In 2021, the 12 National Urban League entrepreneurship centers served more than 29,000 small businesses, according to Morial. The centers helped companies secure $119 million in private and public sector financing and created 1,000 jobs.
“We have long been recognized as job brokers,” said Morial.
“We had to become a job creator. We do that with the business incubators.”
McMillan also noted that the National Urban League is building a new $250 million headquarters in Harlem, New York.
“The National Urban League budget and its impact is the greatest ever,” he said.
Morial also spoke at the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis 104th Annual Tuesday night dinner meeting at the Marriott St. Louis Grand Hotel.
He was honored with the 2022 Whitney M. Young Humanitarian Award. Elizabeth Mannen Berges and James G. Berges were honored with the Annual Dinner Lifetime Achievement Honoree.