“It sucks, man,” says Jaebadiah Gardner, founder and CEO of GardnerGlobal, “being a Black-owned business in Seattle, because there’s no resources readily available to support us.”
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Gardner founded his company several years ago to help communities of color build wealth. At the start of this year, he had numerous projects planned throughout the city. But with the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus crisis, he’s starting to wonder why he’s in Seattle at all.
“Our slogan and our mission is to build wealth,” Gardner says. “That’s a piece of the pie that I believe has been kept from communities of color, so I created the company to teach the community how to build wealth.”
When the coronavirus hit, his subsidiary company, Onpoint Real Estate, had investors and clients ready to start work on a project to redevelop the site of the Mount Calvary Christian Church near 23rd and Union. Architects and designers were poised to begin work—and then everything had to get put on hold.
The property was going to be a multi-unit apartment building, focusing on workforce housing. But now, “a lot of the capital that we had lined up took a back seat,” Gardner says. “We can’t be as aggressive as we want to be because of investors pulling back their capital. It’s really slowing the roll of providing affordable housing in the city.”
He says he’s applied for $10,000 from the Small Business Administration, and a few days later $3,000 of that appeared in his bank account “randomly, with no notice … and that’s not enough to do anything.”
He also applied for a grant from the state of Washington, and hasn’t heard anything back. A loan application with Bank of America was ignored, so he reapplied for a larger sum and got a response. “I figured, let me ask for a freaking ridiculous amount, and that got me in the queue.”
The downturn’s hit him in another unexpected place: gumballs.
Gardiner supplies the gumballs in the machine located near the gum wall in Post Alley, and until recently it provided a not-insubstantial amount of revenue. Now, with quarantine in place, it’s down to a few quarters here and there.
So with real estate and tourism on the back-burner for now, he’s turning to other business opportunities to keep the lights on. He recently self-published a book of business advice for millennial entrepreneurs, and has started a new business: providing face masks.
“We do business internationally, and this provided an opportunity to tap into our networks in China,” he says. He’s now working with manufacturers overseas to supply protective equipment to small business owners of color and nonprofits, and hopes to open an online mask store soon.
Still, he’s been dismayed by what he sees as a lack of support from local government and organizations.
“I definitely feel left out in the cold,” he says. “I’m definitely a little salty about it, but it’s nothing I haven’t faced before." Casting an eye toward Atlanta, he adds, "Maybe I should relocate to a majority Black city where we’d likely get more support. Why am I in Seattle if I’m not getting any support?”
With one of his businesses being property management, he's hoping to find more opportunities to manage multifamily buildings in Seattle. For now, his company oversees over 120 units between Lynwood and Des Moines, and he's looking for more.
“We’re working through it,” he says. “We’re fighters, we’re thrivers, and we’re looking at other ways to create revenue to keep the lights on and keep people paid. Luckily I’ve been able to keep my staff on board, but there’s only so long I can do that.”