Congratulations to the five Madisonians who have been accepted into the Associates in Commercial Real Estate or ACRE program.

ACRE is an industry-supported initiative that recruits and retains people of color for careers in commercial real estate. The goal of the ACRE program is to expand minority representation in the commercial real estate fields of development, property management, and construction management. This program offers students the opportunity to expand their knowledge of these industries while creating a valuable network of fellow students, ACRE graduates and industry professionals.

The program, which had previously been limited to candidates in the Milwaukee area, includes working with experienced professionals to provide a better understanding of the real estate industry, as well as a hands-on approach to develop experience. Typical ACRE students have some college training and several years of business experience. Instructors include industry leaders in related fields.

For the first time, the ACRE Program has accepted five Madison participants. Due to COVID, the ACRE Program is virtual this year, and not limited to the Milwaukee area. Out of 85 applicants, 24 candidates were selected to make up the 2020-2021 cohort. Admission to the program is extremely competitive and this year’s program was met with remarkable interest and a strong pool of applicants.

I want to congratulate the Madison participants, and am proud that one of them - Saran Ouk - is a City employee.

Saran is currently working in the Department of Civil Rights for the City of Madison as a Contract Compliance Specialist where she certifies small, women, and minority owned businesses and work with contractors to ensure they hire women and people of color. She is also the Founder and CEO of a nonprofit called conNEXTions and LLC called Dream Bigger. Her nonprofit organization guides underrepresented young adults from the Madison community to achieve their financial, educational and career goals through mentoring, networking and professional development. Her LLC empowers people to achieve their financial, career and entrepreneurship goals. In both her nonprofit and LLC, she gets to help people budget their money, build their credit, apply for jobs and start their own businesses.

She applied for the ACRE program because she wants to help create affordable housing and commercial properties for small businesses, help create economic opportunities and build generational wealth for my community.

Other local participants include:

Afra Smith: A native of Madison, Wisconsin earned her Bachelors of Science in Gerontology and a Masters of Business Administration- Healthcare Management. She also holds a certificate in Long Term Care Administration. has been working with vulnerable adult populations for over eighteen years. She has held a variety of positions to include experience with Adult Protective Services, guardianship, representative payee, managed care, health plan management and healthcare IT. applied to the ACRE program to both build on her current foundation in business, and financial wellness. She is looking to the real estate industry to a have the opportunity to teach others to positively influence their community and neighborhoods.

Jeff Liggon: Jeff has a varied background which includes Coaching college football, Pharmaceutical sale, and Small business ownership. He applied to the ACRE program hoping to attain a deeper understanding of commercial real estate development and its opportunities for wealth and income creation. He hopes to gain greater insight into financial modeling and concept feasibility through ACRE and its knowledgeable instructors.

Chris Canty: Chris is currently Manufacturing Account Manager for Grainger Industrial Supply where he has had a successful sales career over the last 12 years. At Grainger, his focus is on helping customers drive unwanted costs out of their business, while assisting them with complex inventory management solutions. He is also active with several organizations including The 100 Black Men of Madison, United Way and Monona Grove School District.

Austin Johnson: Austin has a history of helping the underserved community sustain and thrive. He worked with the City of Madison helping Women and Minority Owned businesses working on City construction projects. Austin currently works with the Urban League of Greater Madison helping members with employment, fatherhood, and careers in construction.

The ACRE training is underway and continues through May. Congratulations to our ACRE participants. I am sure we will be hearing more from them as they develop additional skills with which to serve our community.


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