Starbucks opened its first store today in Ferguson, Missouri, as part of a national outreach program to provide jobs to locals, create opportunities for the youth and revitalize the community in low to medium-income "diverse" communities.
The Seattle-based coffee chain will open at least 14 additional stores throughout the country by 2018 as part of this initiative, including in the Jamaica neighborhood of Queens, New York, and the Englewood neighborhood on Chicago's South Side.
More than 5.5 million young Americans do not attend school or have a job, Starbucks said in a statement, adding that the problem is compounded in the communities it's targeting and particularly among people of color.
Starbucks Director of Community Investment for U.S. Retail Operations Rodney Hines said the company heard "loud and clear" that Ferguson was in need of new jobs and training opportunities. It has even created a designated classroom space within the Ferguson store to provide a job skills training program for young people multiple times a week.
The initiative is a long-term project meant to provide meaningful jobs and a "tangible boost" to the local economy, Starbucks said.
"The number one thing we heard from young people in Ferguson is ‘we need jobs,’" said Michael McMillan, president and CEO of the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis. "So we need to engage these youth and we need to figure out how we can help them to get what they need to be productive citizens."
For its newest store, Starbucks hired 30 people from Ferguson or the greater St. Louis area ranging in ages from 16 to 37. Both part-time and full-time workers will enjoy benefits like full healthcare and equity in the form of stock, the company said, and the Starbucks College Achievement Plan will give employees the opportunity to earn a bachelor's degree from Arizona State University with full tuition reimbursement.
Ferguson store manager Cordell Lewis, who grew up in a single-parent home, has already enrolled in online classes at ASU and says Starbucks "sees what Ferguson can become."
"[Ferguson] has its challenges ... but we also have so many young men and women with a lot to offer," Lewis said. "My goal is to be their coach, to listen, and to help drive their passions. That’s the type of leader I want to be.”
Starbucks posted photos and a description of each of the Ferguson employees online. A shift manager named Kevin said his parents are from China and he's "one of the first" in the family to get a college a degree, while a barista named Terriana said she wants to be part of Starbucks' positive impact on the community.
Violence erupted in Ferguson in 2014 following the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown by an officer from the Ferguson Police Department.
Starbucks is partnering with one of the local businesses that suffered extensive damage in the 2014 riots by selling treats from Natalie's Cakes & More at more than 30 St. Louis-area locations. The boost has helped the bakery grow from three employees to more than 20, Starbucks said.
Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III said the city is "grateful" to Starbucks for "recognizing the strength and resilience" of the community.