April 23, 2024
Helping Black-Owned Businesses Thrive
Entrepreneurial leadership coach Valecia Dunbar helped identify the need for a chamber to serve Black-owned business owners in Duval and the greater Jacksonville area.

Northeast Florida Roundup

Helping Black-Owned Businesses Thrive

Vanessa Caceres | 9/28/2023


During the COVID-19 pandemic, many Black-owned businesses faced challenges accessing loans and other assistance to help them survive. To get a sense of the problem, entrepreneurial leadership coach Valecia Dunbar of Jacksonville teamed up with fellow entrepreneurs to survey those businesses and see how they might help.

One thing they identified was the need for a chamber to serve Black-owned business owners in Duval and the greater Jacksonville area. That led to the launch of the Greater First Coast Chamber in early 2021.

Among the chamber’s first efforts was connecting rural businesses that didn’t get PPP loans or other assistance with public and private agencies offering grants and resources. For urban businesses, the chamber — which now has more than 100 members — offers training and technical assistance.

The organization also has helped secure more than $300,000 in facade improvement grants for historic businesses. “These public programs are readily available to all licensed businesses in Duval County, but for these underrepresented business owners, lack of capacity kept them from applying,” Dunbar says.


  • Mayo Clinic has broken ground on a 179,000-sq.-ft. Hilton on its Jacksonville medical campus. The eight-story, 252-room hotel is slated to open in 2025.
  • The University of Florida Health Cancer Center has received a National Cancer Institute designation that will provide it with $2.1 million each year to help attract researchers and conduct research. Last year, the center had 359 active cancer research projects and offered 164 clinical trials to patients.
  • Brooks Rehabilitation and the Mayo Clinic will offer the four-year Mayo Clinic PM&R Residency Program starting next year for medical students who want to work in physical medicine and rehabilitation. Students will complete one year of internal medicine training at Mayo, followed by 12 months of rotations at Brooks. The final two years of the program will include clinics and consult experience at Mayo.


  • The University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine will receive a multi-million-dollar boost to its canine oncology program from the Ann and Lawrence G. Laiks Canine Cancer Fund. Lawrence G. Laiks, who died in 2022, worked as a dentist before retiring to Sarasota. Both he and his wife, who passed away in 2005, 2005, were dog lovers and after her death Laiks’ life centered around the couple’s two golden retrievers. The financial support will assist with research into precision medicine, immunotherapy and genome mapping.
  • UF unveiled its 51,000-sq.-ft., $26.5-million UF Public Safety Building that serves as home of the University of Florida Police Department as well as its Department of Emergency Management and the Emergency Operations System. The building is equipped with technology feeds from across campus that are monitored in real time.


  • The company formerly known as Gillz of Jacksonville Beach has rebranded with the name Outdoor Nation. The apparel manufacturer created and manufactures the brands Gillz, ReelLife, FinTech and Mad Pelican.


  • Feeding Northeast Florida has merged with the Bread of the Mighty food bank of Gainesville. The merger takes place as part of a nine-county alignment for Feeding America. Feeding Northeast Florida now oversees Alachua, Gilchrist and Levy counties, all formerly served by Bread of the Mighty. Feeding Northeast Florida also will now oversee Union County. Gainesville operations will continue as an independent food bank under the Bread of the Mighty name, now as a branch of Feeding Northeast Florida.


  • Swisher of Jacksonville has donated $500,000 to Groundwork Jacksonville for the Emerald Trail, a 30-mile trail that connects 14 historic, urban neighborhoods to downtown, the St. Johns River, McCoys Creek and Hogans Creek. Swisher will be the presenting sponsor of the 4.8-mile S-Line Rail Trail segment of the Emerald Trail.
  • The VyStar Foundation donated a 2,556-sq.- ft. former First Coast Federal Credit Union branch property to Three Grains of Rice Mission in Jacksonville. The Westside location will become the non-profit’s headquarters for operations and for programs such as financial literacy classes and a food pantry.


  • IQ Fiber has sped up deployment of its fiber-optic network across Jacksonville, with the next $18-million phase to include various North Jacksonville and Intra-coastal West neighborhoods.


  • After 25 years in St. Augustine, the World Golf Hall of Fame and Museum has relocated to the U.S. Golf Association’s campus in Pinehurst, N.C. St. Johns County commissioners are looking at a range of other uses of the property, which includes the main 64,000-sq.-ft. facility and an adjacent 18,000-sq.-ft. IMAX theater.


“We all need to work a little closer together so we can march together into the sunlight.” — Journalist and activist Ben Frazier, 73

Frazier grew up in Jacksonville and became the first Black anchor to appear on a major local news broadcast in the late 1970s at WJXT. More recently, he led the Northside Coalition, which he founded in 2015 to focus on racial justice in the Jacksonville area and around Florida.

Former CareerSource Florida CEO Michelle Dennard has been named vice president and regional executive for the Jacksonville Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. She replaces Chris Oakley, who is retiring after 36 years with the Fed, working his way up from a management intern to lead the region’s activities. Dennard will work with the bank’s five other regional executives to collect targeted economic information to support the development of monetary policy. She also will contribute to community and economic development outreach activities in the Jacksonville region.

Tags: Northeast, Business Services, Feature

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