A plan to open a brewery staffed by gang members is not the only idea TruColors Brewing has to try and impact gang-related violence in the area.
The company, founder George Taylor said during an afternoon talk Thursday at the Cucalorus Connect conference, could expand to other business opportunities such as the “Bloods Entrepreneurial Center, and the Crips Entrepreneurial Center over here and GD [Gangster Disciples], etc.” he said. “I don’t know if we’re going to get there, but that’s where we’re heading.”
Taylor, chairman of Untappd and other Wilmington-based startups, founded TruColors Brewing as a commercial brewery staffed by active gang members
The concept is to attempt to influence gang-related violence by offering good-paying jobs to gang members as an alternative.
“If you sell drugs, it’s for the money, it’s because you need it. What I learned is the gangs are not like the mafia,” Taylor said about talking with local gang members after first deciding he wanted to try something in the wake of a deadly, gang-related shooting of a teen in December 2015.
“The leadership of the gangs are not invested in the drug trade. If all of this is just an economic thing, that changes everything. We can change the product from heroin to beer,” he said.
About a dozen gang members, including leaders, have been hired at TruColors, and the goal is to hire about 100 people in the months after the brewery and brewpub open, which could open by the end of the first quarter next year.
But in the meantime, and perhaps further on the horizon, are other business-related projects in the neighborhoods where many of Wilmington’s gangs are based.
The first was a small-business pitch contest last month in which three winners from the community were given low-interest loans and entrepreneurship support to launch their ideas – two restaurants and a laundromat.
Another idea, besides the neighborhood entrepreneur centers, would be to encourage home ownership for TruColors’ gang members – through loans – and encouragements to buy up blocks and clean them up, Taylor said.
Questions from the audience, which included more than 100 people, included whether the effort has made a noticeable impact yet and what would happen to the workers, and the neighborhoods they’re reaching into, if the brewery doesn’t succeed financially.
Taylor made it clear that TruColors was different than a nonprofit or other models that have attempted to address gang violence through employment.
“Everyone who comes into this business knows this business must be profitable,” he said.
TruColors would only be able to make the social impact it hopes to, Taylor said, if it is run as a successful company – one that earns returns for investors and not modeled on grants and fundraising.
“It ain’t philanthropy,” he said. “It’s business.”