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Born out of civil unrest, The Black Dollar Corp.’s forthcoming creator’s space breeds community.
There were two very important things that came out of the events of 2020 (from the first shutdowns to the civil unrest seen nationwide), according to The Black Dollar Corp. CEO Johnny Hackett Jr.: the first being “how well we have been supporting small, local businesses” and the second obviously revolving around social justice issues regarding African Americans.
Black Dollar worked together with other groups like Downtown Raleigh Alliance, A Place at the Table and Carpenter Development with a lens focused on doing more around those two issues. And Black Dollar even changed its official objectives and mission statements to ensure that work would continue moving forward.
As a result of that continued effort, Black Dollar is opening a “creator’s space” in Downtown Raleigh (directly behind Trophy Brewing + Pizza) dubbed The Factory. A partnership with Zach Leverenz—CEO of SEED SPOT, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to support traditionally underrepresented, marginalized entrepreneurs—The Factory will offer small manufacturing equipment like T-shirt printers and press machines, coworking desks, crowdfunding, workshops, and training sessions for any small local business owner to join and take advantage of.
“Each organization has their lane, and our strength is working with small, minority, Black, women-owned business owners and entrepreneurs—so when ‘troubled times’ come, we focus on that demographic and how we can do better, support, and make more long-lasting changes to serve them,” says Hackett.
Carpenter Development managing partner David Meeker first approached Hackett about the space—located in the former NC School Book Depository—last year, originally asking him if he knew anyone who would be interested in it and how it should be used. Turns out, Hackett was the answer he was looking for, and, thanks to a Walmart grant through SEED SPOT, Hackett was able get funding for renovations and interior design tweaks—headed by The Factory CMO Jae Flagler and COO Dominique Crosby, the duo also behind the interior design of Black Friday Market—which, first and foremost meant creating an open, lounge-type feel where individuals can work collaboratively without feeling isolated or siloed.
Unlike with many traditional coworking spaces, The Factory will actually emphasize businesses across different industries working among each other and lifting each other up via its open layout, which intentionally forces engagement (think social event lounges and open spaces—not to mention a bar!), plus events. “It’s figuring out how we can create something that’s greater than the sum of its parts together,” says Leverenz.
And this is just one of the many ways in which the uber-community-driven Hackett is putting such a huge emphasis on supporting his community, African Americans, and hardworking small business owners in general through The Factory.
“We try to increase the support and opportunities we already provide for African American business owners, while also collaborating and building ways in which all small-business owners can share in those opportunities,” maintains Hackett. “2020 was a gut check. … I think it made us all really drill down to what we could do in our own communities and surroundings to help out.”
While Hackett doesn’t expect The Factory to open until April, there are currently free trainings taking place within the space, and he encourages the public to check out the site and provide feedback on the layout while it’s in progress—or even pick up a paintbrush and help out. “We don’t mind inviting people in here early to see stuff happening,” he says. “I want the community to follow along with our journey and share in that,” which is contradictory to most developers who only want the public to see the final, finished product.
Adds Carpenter Developer COO Kate Charland, “Something I think is really incredible about [Johnny] is that he has this big vision for what’s happening around town, but he seems to have these people that he works with that he really trusts to execute the vision—and I’m gonna tell you, that is remarkable.” Remarkable, indeed. thefactory.community
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