As the world becomes increasingly diverse, the number of minority-owned businesses is on the rise. This shifting demographic landscape is encouraging chambers of commerce as they provide programming that supports these under-represented businesses.
Below, we provide brief overviews of two ongoing and successful chamber-led programs that are working to advance the state of minority-owned businesses in their regions.
West Michigan Minority Contractors Association
At the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, Vice President of Business Services Dante Villarreal says the biggest obstacle facing minority-owned businesses is a critical lack of access to resources and connections.
“A lot of it boils down to lack of networking opportunities,” said Villarreal, adding that “part of the challenge facing minority firms is connecting with large companies, some of which just don’t know where to look to find them.”
Villarreal heads the West Michigan Minority Contractors Association (WMMCA), a program that strives to help minority- and women-owned contractors develop business relationships with larger companies in the area. The program offers bid announcements, monthly meetings and training sessions as part of its benefits package.
“The WMMCA is made up of two groups: minority contractors and non-minority firms in town that want more diversity in their supply base,” said Villarreal. “We bring the two groups together every month for a structured meeting, and that facilitates collaboration.”
At the monthly meetings, guest speakers from the business community conduct workshops and seminars on topics like contracting, insurance and marketing. The contractors review each other’s business plans and consult on goals and strategy.
“We help them understand what their strengths and weaknesses are and how they can address those,” said Villarreal. “These are very good masons and carpenters, but we want to help them develop their business side,” he added.
Villarrreal says the WMMCA stays in touch with participants after they complete the program, and continue advising them as necessary.
“This isn’t something you just do for a couple years and then you’re done,” he said. “Even after they’ve graduated and are successful, we want to continue to be the go-to resource for our minority business community here in Grand Rapids.”
Minority Business Accelerator
In Tampa Bay, the seat of Hillsborough County, the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce sponsored a study that found that minority-owned businesses, which account for nearly half of the county’s firms, contribute less than 5 percent of the county’s total revenue.
“The survey found that most minority-owned firms are predominantly small businesses that have 10 employees or less, and contribute about 9 percent of the total employment in Hillsborough County,” said LaKendria Robinson, director of the Greater Tampa Chamber Minority Business Accelerator. “They are making a big impact, but there are some disparities that are preventing them from having the impact they should be having.”
Five-to-eight businesses are selected to participate in 24-month cycles, in which they learn strategies to identify and overcome barriers to doing business. Companies selected to participate must have at least $500,000 in annual revenue and an active business plan.
During the first year, participants meet for 16 hours each month to participate in workshops and training sessions, and undergo a deep-dive assessment of their business plans. In the second year, they meet 10 hours per week and use the skills they learned during the first year to develop accelerated-growth plans.
“We have business development courses where we look at things like human resources, talent management, organizational management and leadership development,” said Robinson. “We’re really looking at a comprehensive curriculum to make sure they have the knowledge they need to continue to accelerate their businesses.”
Robinson hopes the Minority Business Accelerator will lead to increased job creation and more diversity in a wider array of industries in the region. She hopes that other counties will look to Hillsborough as an example of a community that has fostered inclusion in all sectors of the economy.
“We, as a chamber, are measuring our success in fulfilling our diversity and inclusion mission through our program participants,” she said. “If they’re successful, then we’re successful—and we can continue to fulfill that mission for years to come.”
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