Wells Fargo said it is making $20 million in grants to about 1,000 small businesses in Charlotte over the next three years to help mostly racially diverse owners buy property, equipment and technology. The grants will be distributed by the Foundation for The Carolinas, a Charlotte-based community foundation that manages more than $3 billion.
Wells Fargo CEO Charlie Scharf made the announcement during a visit to the Queen City, where Wells Fargo employs more than 27,000 people, its biggest employment base. He said it’s the first of five cities where the San Francisco-based bank’s Open for Business Fund will focus significant resources on helping minority-owned businesses.
The bank created the $420 million fund in 2020 from the transaction fees it received from the federal government while administering nearly $15 billion in Paycheck Protection Program loans Scharf said. The fund targets racially and ethnically diverse small business owners who were significantly affected by the pandemic. The Charlotte effort will emphasize business in six less affluent corridors including Beatties Ford Road, West Boulevard and Wilkinson Boulevard.
“This grant is one of the biggest we’ve made since we began the Open for Business Fund,” Scharf said. “We’re proud to do it in Charlotte… We’re looking forward to replicating this model in other cities next year.”
The $20 million donation is part of a $250 million effort announced earlier this month by private companies and local governments to address racial equity initiatives in Charlotte. That program includes $80 million targeted to Johnson C. Smith University, a historically Black institution near downtown Charlotte.
The Foundation for the Carolinas is working on details of the grant nomination process, with a focus on new business startups, stabilizing existing companies and helping other companies accelerate their growth. Grants aren’t likely to be made for at least six months as the foundation works with community groups and leaders to determine criteria, Executive Vice President Brian Collier told the Charlotte Business Journal.
Married couple Tracey Greene-Washington and Edmund Washington praised Wells Fargo’s generosity at the announcement, nothing their No Grease barbershop business has benefited from the Open for Business program. No Grease has 12 units, including six owned by franchisees.
While $20 million is significant, Greene-Washington challenged other financial institutions to also make grants, noting that “billions of dollars” are needed to addressing longstanding problems caused by generations of racial inequity in the Charlotte area.
After the announcement, Scharf told Business North Carolina that Wells Fargo workers will be returning to their offices on Jan. 8. Charlotte’s center-city has very little pedestrian traffic on weekdays because so few office workers have returned to the area’s many office towers.