By Emma Castleberry
Eagle Market Streets Development Corporation (EMSDC) is an Asheville nonprofit that was founded in 1994 by Dr. John H. Grant and the congregants of Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church. “They were seeking a resolution to maintain properties that were the last visible icons from the ‘oldest African American Commercial Business District’ in the state, perhaps in the country,” says Stephanie Twitty, president and CEO of EMSDC. The organization’s mission—“to develop people, property and businesses and envision economic and social justice for all”—has remained at the heart of their services for more than 25 years. The organization’s current programming includes office and retail commercial leasing, non-traditional small business capital, workforce development, fiscal sponsorship support for small nonprofits and the IDA program. “EMSDC’s services remain an asset to the community because, more often than not, we provide capital and support services not available through other partners and business development providers,” says Twitty. “Without the services we provide for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color), many of them would not be able to start or retain their businesses.”
EMSDC’s IDA program is one of its most powerful tools in leveling the economic landscape for business owners. It was designed to help non-majority, low-to-moderate income earners in developing an entrepreneurial mindset, achieving consistent savings and acquiring assets for growing their business. “IDA, or Individual Development Accounts, are often used as an asset building and wealth creation vehicle,” says Twitty. “These disciplined-matched savings programs allow the participants to invest their own dollars up to $1,000 for a 4/1 matching ROI. Currently our partner/sponsoring agent is the City of Asheville’s Community Development Block program. The asset can be used for purchase or as collateral to secure business loans.”
Anthony M. Thomas, president of UpStaff Personnel Inc, found himself caught on the hamster wheel before he enrolled in the IDA program. “I was working in my business and not necessarily on my business,” he says. “I was my own employee and there was so much I didn’t know about running a successful business.”
UpStaff Personnel is a temporary-to-permanent staffing agency that works with under-resourced communities to help them obtain gainful and sustainable employment. The company focuses on the unemployed, under-employed and those who may have significant barriers to employment. When Thomas joined the IDA program, he quickly realized that business financials were an area where he needed to improve. He used the training resources in the IDA program to better understand financial reports and the nuances of cash flow. EMSDC provided a safe and inviting place for him to hone his skills as a business owner. “EMSDC is well established in the black community, so there is trust there,” he says. “As an entrepreneur, you can feel like you are on an island all by yourself. EMSDC has your back and is a valuable resource for whatever you might need to make your business a success.”
While the IDA Program provides a prime example of EMSDC’s involvement in the local community, Twitty says she is most proud of the organization’s recent completion of the Eagle Market Place, LLC Project. In the early 2000s, EMSDC purchased the Del Cardo building, the Dr. Collette building, an adjacent parking area and a parcel often referred to as “3-Wilson Alley.” EMSDC held these properties in trust for the community until 2010 when they entered into a partnership with Mountain Housing Opportunities, Inc. Together, EMSDC and Mountain Housing Opportunities rehabilitated the historic properties and completed new construction of 62 units of affordable rental properties, 9,000 square feet of commercial lease space and 7,000 square feet of community space.
“The project represents more than 30 years of patience and investment from the community, and a 10-year partnership between two nonprofits committed to relationship building and community development,” says Twitty. “This project returns to the community a tangible legacy honoring their history and investing in their future.”
To learn more, visit EagleMarketSts.org.