Spotlight: Inez Long-The Orlando Times
A Woman Fighting For Social And Economic Change For Black Businesses
BY JALESSA CASTILLO, TIMES STAFF WRITER
ORLANDO - Born and raised as a 5th generation Central Floridian, Inez Long was primed to be an honor roll student and future college graduate. Despite challenges she was able to fulfill her dreams and as a result has helped thousands of Black and minority business owners to do the same.
After graduating from Ocoee High School, she went on to earn her MBA from the University of Central Florida (UCF) and her BA in Accounting, from the University of South Florida (USF).
While enrolled at USF tragedy struck when her father passed away.
“Each day it becomes easier, but you never get over it,” said Long. “At that time, I was thinking I needed to quit college and get a job to help my mom, but she didn’t let me.”
As a pre-law major her father’s death increased concerns over how she would afford schooling. Her friend suggested that she take classes at the College of Business, where he was majoring in Business, so she took accounting and fell in love with it. She also fell in love with that best friend, Fitzhugh Long, and after college they decided to get married.
Long has 28 years of combined experience in the financial services industry. She began her professional career in commercial banking in Credit Management and Commercial Lending with First Union and SunTrust banks in Orlando, Florida. It was while working for them that she met Judy Jones, the former President of the Black Business Investment Fund (BBIF).
BBIF is a non-profit entity that was started in partnership by national banks and Florida. During the 1980s that state was facing mass rioting in Miami. The political leaders of the time commissioned a study to discover the root of the problem. The study revealed that the black community was not able to get decent jobs from local businesses and when they tried to start their own businesses they were denied loan capital from the bank. Other minority groups were affected as well, the Hispanic community was challenged in doing international trade and the Asian community was challenged in being able to go back to college. In finding this out they created strategies to help these communities. For the Black community, they created Black Business Investment Corporations (BBIC), in Orlando it is called BBIF and it was started in 1987.
In late 1990 Jones persuaded Long to leave the bank and work for BBIF as a lender. 6 months after she hired Long she left and became the president of the state-wide Florida Black Business Investment Board so Long applied for the job of President/CEO of BBIF Florida and was appointed to the position in February of 1991 and has since served as such.
“While in banking it was challenge. Even though I was a business major with an accounting degree it was difficult because there were very few African Americans that were commercial lenders,” said Long. “And being a female because the industry was dominated primarily by white males. However, it was very rewarding in that I was able to learn a tremendous amount of information and I was able to bring all of those learning’s with me to BBIF.”
BBIF Florida is a mission driven, not-for-profit, Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) that focuses on providing capital to Black, minority and underserved small businesses. BBIF’s mission is to develop and promote business enterprises though education, training, loans and advocacy.
“I love Inez’s vision, I consider her an architect of social and economic change for Black businesses,” said client Veronica Anderson of Anderson & Associates P.A. “The Black Business Investment Fund is here primarily because of leaders like Dr. Alzo Reddick, who was in the legislature at the time, and people like Inez Long who know what to do with legislation to make it become real. Now we have this unprecedented organization that can help Black businesses grow.”
Under Long’s leadership, BBIF Florida has provided over $47.6 million in loans to over 406 Black and minority businesses, created and sustained over 12,906 jobs all while maintaining a historical loan loss rate of approximately 4 percent; invested and leveraged $55.2million in community economic develop projects. She has led the organization to: (1) expand its geographic service area to statewide, (2) expand its client base from Black businesses to include other minority and underserved small businesses, (3) receive two federal New Markets Tax Credits allocation of $20 million each, two FA awards totaling $1.9 million, and (4) be selected as one of three initial CDFI’s to be nationally recognized and received a Wells Fargo Bank Diverse Community Capital grant of $1 million.
“There was a time when bank leadership was local so many of the decisions being made were made by local people but that is no longer the situation,” said Long. “Everything is more automated and less personal. A lot of times small businesses need more personal relationships and that’s what BBIF offers.”
BBIF’s organizational certifications are: U.S. Department of the Treasury CDFI & CDE, FDIC Money Smart for Small Business Collaborator, SBA Community Advantage Delegated Lender (the only SBA member in the entire state of Florida) and US Department of Transportation (DOT) Short Term Lender.
“Black businesses tend to hire Black staff which helps the unemployment rate within our community, which helps to strengthen our community,” she said when asked about the importance of BBIF. “People need jobs and they need the opportunity to build their personal wealth.”
Long currently serves on the board of the Opportunity Finance Network (OFN), OFN Advocacy Committee and is the Chair of the OFN Equity Committee; Long also serves on national Community Advisory Committees for both Fifth Third Bank and TD Bank. She has served on the boards of the following organizations: Wayne Densch YMCA (Pine Hills), WMFE Public Broadcasting Company, the African American Chamber of Commerce of Central Florida and the Central Florida Expressway Authority, previously the Orlando Orange County Expressway Authority (a gubernatorial appointment).
“Inez Long is a very sharp and smart individual. She is knowledgeable, particularly when it comes to finance,” said Jacqueline Barr, who worked with Long via The Expressway Authority. “She is really a nice lady and a hard-working person. I can talk forever about Inez, that is how impressed and proud I am of her.”
She also co-created a Reading Club at the Raleigh Street Boys and Girls Club with her husband. The Reading Club taught the children about African American history and the importance of giving back to the community.
“What gives me pleasure is helping people achieve their dreams,” she said. “A lot of times people have dreams about starting businesses, but they may not necessarily know how to put the puzzle together. I do understand how to put it together and I enjoy helping them put it together.”
She is a member of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority and her hobbies include reading, yoga, golf and bike riding.
She and her husband have raised three children and a niece together. Ja’rod, who was born with a birth defect, has worked alongside his father and is now a carpenter; Marcus is involved with IT work; Nicole is an environmental engineer; and their niece Rhonda is in business.
“She is a very great mother and very loyal and devoted wife,” said Fitzhugh Long, her husband. “She is always inspiring and tries to uplift me and the children every day of her life. It’s always something positive that she is trying to impart upon all of us and I think that how she basically lives her life.”
Sadly, Long’s parents and siblings have passed on, yet she notes them as the source of her passion for helping others.
Her parents, J.B. James, a Methodist, and Coraline James, a Baptist, worked hard to make a living for their family. They saved money to buy a plot of land and materials to build their own home. Later, they bought three additional pieces of property that they were able to make available to their children despite either of them finishing high school. Long’s grandparents died when her mother was a child and she, along with her siblings, were adopted by her uncle and aunt while her father’s parents died when he was child as well and he was raised by his grandparents.
“That’s why I feel so strongly about supporting folks in our community, we are a community family,” she said. “For my uncle to take in 5 of his nieces and nephews when they already had 5 children, that was a statement in my mind. I have been surrounded by people who help other people and it’s just become a part of my spirit.”
Long has used her drive to give back to the community that she cherishes via BBIF.
“We have capital to loan and we want to loan it to Black businesses in the state of Florida,” she said. “We have been able, through our organization, to impact thousands of lives in a positive way. God has been good to us and we wish to continue to do that; to strengthen our community and we ask our community to support one another. If we help you, help someone else that looks like you.”
BBIF is headquartered in Orlando but they are getting ready as of March 1 to open a second office in the city of Miami Gardens and in July they are looking to open another office in Jacksonville, Florida. Get more information at https://bbifflorida.com/.
“Prepare yourself for the opportunity that will come to you,” she added. “If there is something that you want to do, find out what skill sets and what training you need to have and find a way to do it. Continue to pray and keep your faith in God and you will succeed.”