Small business owners in economically challenged Merced County, CA, can now take advantage of a free, social media-based marketing program called Elements Merced to help them reach out to new customers. Elements Merced is aimed at small businesses in the county with less than $1 million in annual revenue. Owners will have the ability to link up with area college students trained in the business uses of social media to create marketing strategies. Elements Merced will be operated by the United Way of Merced County. It is supported by a $215,000 contribution from Citi Community Development. “Citi’s support for Elements Merced allows Merced County small businesses to harness technology to create economic opportunity,” says Mary Hogarty of Citi Community Development. “This program builds on the groundwork laid by thoughtful research and recommendations from local leaders.” Many of the more than 5,000 small businesses in the county have less than $1 million in revenue and are often operated by first-time entrepreneurs. Approximately 82 percent of business owners surveyed by the United Way would welcome this kind of help. Merced County has one of the highest poverty rates in the nation, and ranks among the lowest counties in education and economic development. Approximately 21 percent of the county’s residents live below the federal poverty line. Its almost 260,000 residents are disproportionately young, with young adults ages 18-30 representing approximately 30 percent of the population. Unemployment among this group is 48.7 percent, according to state economic development statistics. “Through our partnership with Citi, we will have the opportunity to transform challenges into solutions,” says United Way of Merced County Executive Director Flip Hassett. "At the same time, we will enhance and revitalize our small business sector and enrich local college students’ educational experience and provide them skills to succeed in the workplace and as entrepreneurs."
A recent Citi-commissioned study by the New York City-based Center for an Urban Future entitled Smarter Small Businesses, found that nearly half of low- to moderate-income business owners are not using social media to promote their businesses. The study noted that technology is no longer an option, but an essential tool for businesses to remain competitive.City of Merced Council Member and small business attorney Mike Murphy agrees. "As businesses find new ways to use social media to attract customers, I believe this program will empower our small business community and drive local economic growth." Local businesses and college students can learn more and apply to the program now at www.facebook.com/elementsmerced. About United Way of Merced County The United Way of Merced County (UWMC) has been operating since 1954 and functions as a leader in collaborative relationships and community building in Merced County. Working with business, government and individuals, as well as the nonprofit community, the UWMC seeks to relieve the burdens of its most vulnerable and dependent citizens, and to help them become healthier, more financially stable and actively engaged in a stronger community. For more information, visit www.unitedwaymerced.org. About Citi Community Development Citi Community Development leads Citi’s commitment to achieve economic empowerment and growth for underserved individuals, families and communities by expanding access to financial products and services, and building sustainable business solutions and innovative partnerships. Our focus areas include: commercial and philanthropic funding; innovative financial products and services; and collaborations with institutions that expand access to financial products and services for low-income and underserved communities. For more information, visit www.citicommunitydevelopment.com.