When Community Vision began working in the Central Valley in 2008, a top priority was to authentically show up for Valley communities and build reciprocal relationships based in trust and mutual respect. Part of this work included workshops and technical assistance provided by our Consulting team; some of which we offered pro-bono in response to the needs of the community.
As our presence in the Central Valley grew, we learned that there was a strong need among community-based organizations for capacity building around commercial real estate and financial planning. We also learned from people in the community development field that there was a desire to bring more young professionals into the industry. In 2012, we partnered with California State University, Fresno to launch the Community Facilities Challenge (CFC) as a way to both build the capacity of local organizations and to introduce undergraduate students to community development as a career option. The CFC partners student teams who are studying construction management, interior design, finance, and humanics with local community-based organizations who are experiencing a community facility challenge. Student teams are able to apply classroom theory by creating a real estate development proposal that assesses the facility’s issue and proposes a viable solution.
In 2019, CFC student teams partnered with the Vision View Business Formation Center (Vision View) to develop a renovation plan for a building in their facility that is in need of repairs. Vision View is a 33,000-square-foot multi-tenant center comprised of three buildings and located less than two miles from Fresno’s Yosemite International Airport, which until a few years ago, was an area that was not experiencing a lot of development.
Fresno is one of the most ethnically diverse, and fastest growing cities in the United States. Current investment initiatives such as Governor Newsom’s ‘Regions Rise Together’ and the Fresno DRIVE Initiative (Developing the Region’s Inclusive and Vibrant Economy) are going to influence economic growth and community development throughout the region over the coming decades.
Economic benefits in Fresno have not been shared equitably among its residents. Fresno has one of the highest rates of concentrated poverty in the country, which is exacerbated by the city’s low ranking on economic and racial inclusion. For example, in North Fresno the average household income is $56,000, whereas in Southwest Fresno it is $41,000.
It’s important that current and future development in the Fresno region is inclusive of all people; particularly the communities who have been historically marginalized or displaced through planning and development processes.
But what does this actually look like for people living in Fresno?
For one local entrepreneur, Laneesha Senegal, it meant establishing Vision View as a shared space facility for the entrepreneurial and entertainment needs of local residents and people traveling to and through Fresno.
Laneesha is well aware of how poverty impacts those who live in the Fresno region. As a mother of five, her family has experienced nights without power and heat, and times when food was short. These personal experiences motivated her to launch H.O.P.E. (Helping Others Pursue Excellence). Established in 2012, H.O.P.E. is a nonprofit that works alongside aspiring entrepreneurs to break barriers and reach financial stability through workforce training, including business literacy and development programs.
Often working out of coffee shops or hotels located near the Yosemite International Airport, Laneesha saw a trend of local residents and travelers also using these businesses to hold meetings or conduct interviews.
Driven by a desire to see people realize their entrepreneurial visions and come out of poverty, Laneesha wrote a plan for how Vision View could operate from a shared space model. As a multi-tenant center, Vision View brings together a range of services and programs so that Fresno residents can actively shape their future, and benefit from the development happening in the region.
Along with her business partners, Laneesha acquired the building center for Vision View in 2017. Laneesha and her team knew that Vision View would serve as a business ecosystem to provide workforce development pathways and support business incubation from concept to launch. As local entrepreneurs, they had an intimate understanding of the need for these type of services.
Their business plan and facility design were also inspired by an economic impact report on Fresno’s two airports. According to the report, Yosemite International Airport alone brings in 1.3 million travelers a year and nearly 20 million pounds of cargo, both of which significantly contribute to the region’s economy. Laneesha also took notice of the development happening within a few miles of the airport, including construction of two new hotels, paved streets, and parking lots. To her these were clear signs that there are opportunities for local residents to shape and benefit from the growth and development in Fresno.
The report prompted Laneesha and her team to deepen their market research to better understand the community demographics and the day-to-day experiences of local businesses. Using census data, observation, and interviews, they captured important information about the needs of residents and businesses within a 1-mile radius of Yosemite International Airport that was not within the scope of the City’s report. In particular, their research identified accounting, human resources, marketing, technical assistance, and legal services as top needs of local entrepreneurs. They also learned that there are many people with a desire to start their own business but experience a lack of support; something that is particularly true for women of color.
With this information they started reaching out to small businesses that offered the services identified to invite them to be co-located at the Vision View facility. Laneesha sees the emerging growth of the airport region, and Fresno in general, along with findings from their own research as key indicators of the economic health and potential demand for Vision View in the Airport District.
Working with two teams of Fresno State students from the Lyles College of Engineering, the Department of Art and Design, and the Humanics Program, Laneesha and her partners were inspired with new ideas and insights.
“Before participating in the CFC, our initial plan was to talk with investors who could provide capital support for the renovations. This experience helped us realize the need to engage the community more deeply in what we’re doing at Vision View, that they should be a part of the process every step of the way.”
– Laneesha Senegal, Co-founder of the Vision View Business Formation Center
Through the process of the CFC, Laneesha fostered a strong relationship with her student teams. The founders of Vision View are continuing to work with one of the student groups to conduct outreach and hold community conversations to gather input on the offerings of the business formation and entertainment facility. Currently, Laneesha and the students are working with an architect and contractor on the building’s demolition and rebuilding, where students are providing guidance on the design process.
“Vision View is offering an incredible service to our community and we are thrilled that the CFC and participating Fresno State students had the opportunity to form such strong relationships with Lanesha and her team.”
– Kiel Lopez-Schmidt, Community Vision’s Central Valley Regional Manager
While construction and planning are underway Vision View’s tenants continue to provide key services and offer space for lease. Since their launch in 2017, the work happening at Vision View has spread largely through word of mouth. To date, Vision View has helped launch 45 businesses. They’ve expanded their partnerships and found their niche as the Central Valley’s largest entrepreneurial facility that creates pathways to meaningful jobs for people with limited resources.
Running a business or providing programming can be costly, and the process of starting a business or getting into a career path can be hard to navigate. The philosophy of Vision View is that you don’t have to embark on these journeys alone. As a multi-tenant facility Vision View offers an ecosystem of services. Their model is an important community development strategy for other cities, because their work demonstrates that shared space facilities can serve as a career network hub as a community grows and evolves.