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The panelists and moderator at AL DÍA and Chase's recent Roundtable on community banking
Moderator Loraine Ballard Morrill (left) speaks with panelists (left to right) Chandra Williams, Josué Figueroa, Rose Mary Marmolejos and Jennifer Rodriguez on June 1, 2023. Photo: Nigel Thompson/AL DÍA News.

The power of community banking when it’s done right

AL DÍA and Chase Bank partnered for a roundtable discussion on June 1 that dove into how the latter is carrying out work on the ground in Philly.

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Like every entrepreneur, Rose Mary Marmolejos’ business started with an idea. Her mother’s sofrito recipe was a staple in her Dominican household growing up, and it’s something she passed on to her daughter to keep the recipe alive. 

Rather than keep it in the family, Rose Mary began jarring and selling the mixture of organic ingredients that serves as a base for many popular dishes of all cultures. Mama’s Sofrito was born, but the business it is today was still very much in its infancy.

To grow Mama’s Sofrito to where it is now — selling both a chimichurri and pepper sauce in addition to the base sofrito, running a website, and having an industrial kitchen to boost production — Rose Mary needed help.

“A lot of entrepreneurs, especially minorities, we start a business with what we think it should be,” Marmolejos said, “but it’s far away from reality.”

She was speaking as a panelist during a roundtable discussion on June 1 hosted by AL DÍA News and Chase Bank all about the importance of community banking and how the latter is carrying out the work on the ground in Philadelphia. The discussion was moderated by iHeartMedia's Loraine Ballard Morrill.

It’s at Chase Bank where Marmolejos met fellow panelist Josué Figueroa, a senior business consultant. His job is to help entrepreneurs like Marmolejos grow their businesses and become the job creators and wealth generators their communities need.

Figueroa said the guidance he provides can take many forms. At the forefront is access to capital, but it’s not just funding. Capital is also intellectual, and he often coaches small business owners to better understand their own finances and points them to any permits or licenses they may need to operate.

“He resolved my whole business directions and goals,” Marmolejos said of Figueroa’s contributions, which included obtaining the proper licenses, permits and officially registering as a minority-owned business, to name a few.

In response to the praise, Figueroa directed it back to Marmolejos, who he said “did the work.”

“I could say that these resources are available, but I’m not going to fill out the application for her,” he continued.

Still, the help Marmolejos received from Figueroa at Chase Bank is something panelist Jennifer Rodriguez said other entrepreneurs should seek out via community banking and the networks they’re a part of. The work of helping small businesses and entrepreneurs reach their goals is also something she’s very familiar with at the Greater Philadelphia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

“Entrepreneurship is not a ‘do-it-yourself’ project,” said Rodriguez, despite the common narrative often associated with those grinding everyday to get their businesses off the ground.

“Your goal is to bring a whole community of experts and trusted people to help advance your goals,” she continued.

Chase Bank’s community banking effort — which includes 17 branches like the one Chandra Williams works at on 52nd and Ludlow in West Philly — is part of the institution’s $30 billion Racial Equity Commitment, which it made in 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the racial reckonings that came along with George Floyd’s murder by police.

By the numbers — other than the $30 billion that resulted in 17 community bank branches around the country — there are now also 160 community managers like Williams across the country and 60 senior business consultants like Figueroa.

In his own words, the $30 billion is there, but it also comes with “boots on the ground” that establish direct relationships in the community. 

“It is the people as well as the access to the resources,” Williams said on the panel.

The three main pillars of the commitment are to boost minority homeownership, financial literacy and education, and help small businesses grow. On the front, Chase hopes to help 11,000 small businesses obtain credit and 40,000 homeowners to obtain a mortgage.

Beyond the location at 52nd and Ludlow, there is also another Chase Bank community branch on Aramingo Ave. in Port Richmond, and Williams said there will be more.

“We’re still growing,” she said.

Inside, the branches contain traditional banking services, but also space for programming for members of the surrounding community.

“The community room is the star,” said Williams of the programming space at 52nd and Ludlow.

She went on to say that the space can hold up to 75 people at the same time and is used at her location to host masterclasses on financial literacy and more on the third Wednesday of every month. Young people also use the space learn about money management and basic finance.

“This is a different kind of banking,” said Williams.

It’s banking where “access” is “at the core,” echoed Rodriguez. But it still requires the work put in by entrepreneurs like Marmolejos to see fruits of labor worth fighting for.

“Your business as an entrepreneur is execution,” Rodriguez said. “You will only be as successful as the effort you put in, guided by the experts that surround you.”

With that in mind, be on the lookout for Mama’s Sofrito, coming to grocery stores near you very soon.

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