Women at the forefront of Utah’s Black business growth
Despite accounting for less than 2 percent of the population as per the US Census Bureau, Utah’s Black business community is vibrant and growing—and women are leading the way.
Minority groups across the country are starting businesses at an unmatched rate; companies owned by Black women have grown by 164 percent since 2007. Women of color are a determined, yet historically underfunded, segment of business owners.
“It’s encouraging to be a woman of color because I am a product of those who came before me,” says Alyssha Dairsow, founder and executive director of the nonprofit Curly Me! “I believe [that] what I bring to the table [is] being valuable to my community and the business world.”
Originally from New Jersey, Dairsow was raised in a small town by community-minded parents. Graduate school brought her to Utah, but the active lifestyle and a sense of purpose convinced her to stay. She created Curly Me! in 2015 to fill a need for activities and marketing tailored to Black people, particularly girls in the Salt Lake area. What began as quarterly meetups surrounding Black hair has evolved into an organization aiming to connect and empower young women through community events, mentoring, and within the next few years, Dairsow hopes, educational opportunities.
Along with the US as a whole, Utah’s racial makeup is continuously diversifying. Minority populations are expected to boom over the next half-century, with one in three Utahns being a minority in 2065, according to a 2019 study conducted by the University of Utah’s Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute.
“It’s imperative that we continue having a conversation about what socio-political and educational shifts must be put in place to ensure that more individuals in minority communities are able to ladder up to better financial spaces,” says social entrepreneur and activist, Karen Rodriguez.
Rodriguez grew up in the Bronx and relocated to Utah in 2010. She worked as a lobbyist before she entered the tech sector and launched her own digital marketing and web development agency. In 2018, she founded Code in Color, an organization focused on creating pathways for Black and Latinx young adults to gain access to tech education and job opportunities.
“Being an Afro-Latina in the tech and political space is incredibly rewarding and challenging. I am usually the first Black woman or Latinx person to join any such team and therefore, I end up being the advocate for more representation within the business,” Rodriguez says.
“I love that I can be the voice for so many people who do not get to be at the table. Having access to some of these privileged spaces has helped me realize that we need to create an infrastructure that gives equal access and opportunity for more people like me to join these spaces and voice their perspectives and ideas.”
As the Beehive State’s robust economy, emerging tech sector, reasonable cost of living, and wellness-centric lifestyle draw people from other states and countries to pursue educational and career opportunities, Black community leaders remind us that diversity is more than a concept or a box to be ticked in business. Whether by attending events and fundraisers, buying products and services, offering grants, or building partnerships, all of Utah can work together to help minority businesses grow, Rodriguez says.
“When you have two identities that are a part of marginalized communities, you tend to see things quite differently than if you only had one,” says Natalie Pinkney, at-large representative on the South Salt Lake City Council. “That’s why intersectionality is so important when it comes to how we move forward in Utah.”
Pinkney moved to the Salt Lake Valley five years ago to further her education at the University of Utah. Her desire to represent working-class and minority households in a diverse and rapidly growing city inspired her to enter the 2019 council race. Her election at age 26 made her one of the youngest public office holders in the state. She also serves on the South Salt Lake Arts Council and the Salt Lake County Behavioral Health Advisory Board.
“When people think of Utah, they don’t think of someone like me and that makes sense when you look at our billboards, our magazine covers, our news, or who we elevate,” says Pinkney. “I want more people of color to experience the greatness that Utah has but if we don’t tackle inclusivity, we can lose a lot of great talent that would make our state better.”