To diversify Tulsa’s small businesses and startup platforms, local officials plan to create a $5 million incubator dedicated to immigrant entrepreneurs.
A center called 21st Street Market would be located in the East 21st Street and South Garnett Road commercial corridor, also known as the Tulsa Global District.
“Essentially, the mission of the 21st Street Market would be to develop an ecosystem of support for immigrant entrepreneurs throughout metro Tulsa and promote intercity tourism,” Rodrigo Rojas, deputy chief of staff for the mayor’s office, said by phone. “We hope this really serves as a model for inclusive economic growth.”
The concept was presented to the City Council on April 20, and the city recently approved $1 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds for the project. The Tulsa Authority for Economic Opportunity plans to acquire property on an undisclosed site in the 21st and Garnett area, renovate 14,000 square feet for the incubator and rehabilitate a parking lot.
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Business training, access to capital and a support network would be part of the center, as well as a multi-purpose outdoor space to host food trucks, farmers’ markets and more. An internationally themed retail space for pop-up shops would also be available.
A total of $2.8 million is planned for the acquisition of the assets, with the balance earmarked for renovations ($2.26 million) and multi-purpose outdoor space ($100,000). Supporters of the initiative — they want to launch a launch strategy after finalizing the purchase of the property by the end of the year — will seek additional funding from other government sources and philanthropic groups, Rojas said .
The business center could be a catalyst to “elevate the vibrancy and authenticity that has existed in this neighborhood for decades,” he said.
More than 70,762 immigrants reside in the Tulsa metro area, representing 7.1 percent of the population and $1.5 billion in spending, according to New American Economy, an immigration policy research and advocacy organization based in New York.
The Tulsa Global District is home to significant Hispanic, Vietnamese and Hmong populations, and the city as a whole has 6,293 immigrant entrepreneurs, according to the New American Economy (NAE).
“When COVID hit, it had a disproportionate impact on this community,” Rojas said. “While small businesses across the country were struggling, immigrant entrepreneurs were particularly vulnerable because they represent a very large percentage of particularly hard-hit sectors.
“We sincerely believe that this initiative will revive this ecosystem that already exists and that we need to continue to see.”
Tulsa is tied with Indianapolis as the U.S. city with the largest increase in diversity since 2010, according to NAE.
From 2010 to 2020, the Hispanic and Asian populations increased by 43% and 58%, respectively, while the white population decreased by approximately 12%.
“We want all of our stakeholders to invest in a project like this to support our immigrant community,” Rojas said. “We think now is the time to do it. There’s a lot of vibrancy at 21st and Garnett and in general in East Tulsa.
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