AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – Empty storefronts at the Augusta Mall will soon be filling up. Brookfield Properties, owner company of the mall, plans to invest $25 million into minority owned businesses in malls across the southeast over the next five years.

The program is called “Partner to Empower.” The Augusta branch of the program is focusing on Black entrepreneurs who dream of opening brick and mortar stores, but all minorities are encouraged to apply.

“The most exciting part about what we’re offering is not just a funding. We’re offering this four week retailer workshop that will be facilitated by industry insiders, providing them with knowledge that a lot of small businesses just don’t have,” regional VP of business development for Brookfield Properties, Michelle Isabel said.

The application is open through June 18. Those who advance to the interview round will pitch their business plan to a panel of Brookfield representatives, and those selected to open stores will continue working with their industry experts.

“We have several touchpoints throughout the year to make sure that they’re following their business plan, to make sure that they don’t fall into different pitfalls,” Isabel said. “We want to make sure that they have resources within the communities that we serve in case they have questions about accounting, marketing, inventory control. So we plan to stick with them for at least the first year and then beyond.”

This year, the goal is to open 20-25 stores. The grand opening dates will be on a case by case basis.

“We want to make sure that they’re ready. That they’re prepared,” Isabel said. “We don’t want to just open stores to be opening them. Our goal is to make sure that we work with retailers and that they are sustainable.”

She says the program will help decrease a wealth gap in Black communities, and she tells me it’s one of the most important things she’s been a part of in her life.

“As more businesses open, more jobs will be created, and then as they expand and are able to pass on their businesses to their families, these business owners create generational wealth,” Isabel said.

If you aren’t ready to apply just yet, don’t rush. The application will go live again every year for the next five years.

By 2025, Brookfield Properties hopes to help open 250 minority owned businesses in malls across the southeast.