Regions Bank on Thursday announced the launch of a new initiative designed to support, complement and advance work that is under way to foster more Black-owned businesses in the bank’s headquarters city.
The Birmingham Black-Owned Business Initiative will be led by Kendra Key, who recently joined Regions as Senior Vice President in the bank’s Community Affairs division. Key will collaborate with community partners to leverage Regions’ resources and business development experience in ways that support and strengthen a vibrant Black-owned business ecosystem. The initiative will specifically aim to reach entrepreneurs throughout the Magic City, including and especially in underserved neighborhoods. Key and a network of organizations will work toward the following priorities:
–Identify and amplify current resources for Black entrepreneurs: Already, various organizations offer mentorship, technical assistance, or even funding to help new businesses go from concept to reality. The Birmingham Black-Owned Business Initiative will raise awareness of existing resources and evaluate opportunities for providing greater financial or technical support for programs with a proven track record of results. The impact over time will be greater opportunities for current and future business owners to receive customized guidance in launching and operating a successful business.
— Address gaps where additional resources are needed: Often, the difference between whether a business succeeds or fails comes down to access. Did the business owner have access to the right tools and training? Was there enough access to capital and liquidity? What are ways the existing business community can help address a lack of access and help more business owners thrive? These are foundational questions Key and community partners will consistently address as they identify ways to reach more people with tangible benefits.
— Build collaboration that focuses on results: While many organizations share in the goal of building a more prosperous Birmingham, it is important for these organizations to have strong awareness within the community and strong collaboration to ensure as many business owners as possible are benefiting. Key and community partners of Regions Bank will work extensively to ensure business accelerator programs, mentorship opportunities, technical assistance, co-working spaces, potential funding sources, and more are increasingly available to entrepreneurs to maximize their likelihood for success and growth.
“Over the last several years, Regions Bank has focused its community engagement on fostering more inclusive prosperity, and one of the most powerful ways we can build on this commitment is by creating new strategies to support and uplift Black-owned businesses in our headquarters city,” said John Turner, President and CEO of Regions Financial Corp.
“Regions is proud to be based in Birmingham, and we are deeply invested in our hometown. By enhancing our collaboration with community groups and focusing more of our time and resources on the growth of Black-owned businesses, we can address an important need in the Magic City while strengthening the quality of life for more entrepreneurs, families and neighborhoods,” Turner said.
Turner is a member of the Board of Directors of Prosper, an initiative created by corporate, civic and community leaders to build the most inclusive and thriving economy in the Southeast. The Birmingham Black-Owned Business Initiative is a shared priority for Regions and Prosper and is designed to work with a range of organizations that are all united in the goal of helping more Black-owned businesses thrive.
A recent Brookings Institution study reported the Birmingham region has the lowest rate among all large U.S. metro areas (53rd out of 53) for Black business ownership of companies that are large enough to have employees in addition to their owner. But many areas of the country are seeing an increase in Black entrepreneurship. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, Black neighborhoods with moderate income levels experienced a large uptick in new business startups between 2019 and 2020. Key and community groups are focused on ensuring Birmingham builds a positive trajectory through collaboration and innovation to support more business owners.
“We have an entrepreneurial spirit, enthusiastic community partners, and higher engagement from the existing business community that recognizes the importance of a stronger Black-owned business climate,” Key said. “I’m excited about this initiative, which is a pivotal step toward a long-term goal at Regions to make a meaningful difference in addressing the plight of Black businesses in Birmingham while helping create a best-in-class Black business ecosystem.”
Key reports to Leroy Abrahams, head of Community Affairs for Regions Bank and president of the Regions Foundation. Key’s work will also complement the work of the Regions Community Development Corporation, which was established under Abrahams’ leadership.
“The deeper collaboration Kendra is building today will create a more prosperous tomorrow,” Abrahams said. “We are deeply grateful for community partners like Prosper and others that share a strong vision for fostering more Black-owned business success. Financial inclusion is crucial to the success of the communities where we live and work, and we know Kendra’s experience and passion will drive tangible results in neighborhoods across Birmingham.”
“Prosper is committed to working with leading businesses, including Regions, and a wide range of community partners to empower more people with crucial resources for business success,” added Prosper President J.W. Carpenter. “We saw through the pilot launch of Prosper’s Magic City Match program that Black-owned businesses are ready to grow, compete and succeed in the marketplace. We appreciate the leadership position Regions is taking and cannot think of a better person than Kendra to lead this work. As a Prosper Board member, Kendra has already had a tremendous influence on Prosper’s work, and this has the potential to make a generational impact for entrepreneurs and families across our city. We are excited to partner with her and with Regions.”
Before joining Regions, Key served as head of Minority Depository Institution Engagement for Citigroup. Prior to Citigroup, Key served as senior vice president of community and economic development and market leader for Hope Enterprise Corporation. She was also an associate attorney at Maynard Cooper & Gale. Her legal and financial experience has focused on community development initiatives including tax credit financing, opportunity zones, real estate and commercial banking.
Key is a member of the Board of Advisors for both the Vanderbilt University Law School and the University of Alabama Division of Community Affairs. She serves on the New Markets Tax Credit Advisory Board for Habitat for Humanity International and the boards of Prosper, Woodlawn United, Birmingham Talks and the Jones Valley Teaching Farm.