2 min read June 2023 — In an interview with Focus:, Melvin Coleman, president and CEO of the Atlanta Black Chambers, spoke about taking the brand of his organization global, the importance of business certifications for Black-owned entrepreneurs and why Atlanta is a “special and great place for Black people” and their business ventures.
What have been some key highlights for the Atlanta Black Chambers over the last 12 months?
We have seen consistent growth in membership and great development in our programming. Our priority is to increase our membership to 1,000 — we are not too far from that goal. There has been increased access to resources. We have provided over $100,000 in small business grants over the last 12 months. We have provided critical services at no cost to many small business owners through access to special programs. We have launched an initiative to get all ABC members minority business certified. We want our businesses to have one or more certifications to better position them for opportunities.
Another key highlight is taking our brand global. The ABC is structured around strategic committees and affinity groups. Our global opportunities committee just launched last year, and we are getting a lot of interest from Africa, the Caribbean, Latin and South America, the UK and Canada. Because Atlanta is such an international city, we already have ABC members in most of these places. We want to use our platform to educate and empower everyone with knowledge about how to do business in other countries and how we can collaborate to expand the opportunities that are available in the Atlanta area. This global initiative has taken us to another level. We’re very excited.
What do your successes say about the state of Atlanta’s economy?
Our success speaks to an economy booming with entrepreneurial energy. The growth of our membership and the response to our programming is undeniable. Atlanta’s economy is largely driven by an enormous population of entrepreneurs. Atlanta leads the nation in the percentage of Black owned businesses. Our success is directly associated with how well we create the access and exposure the Atlanta entrepreneur community needs to become an even more powerful force in this economy.
What is your role in Atlanta’s growth and why is Atlanta a great place to relocate a business?
The mission of the ABC is to be an advocate for the creation and growth of competitive, profitable and sustainable Black owned entities. Atlanta’s growth is largely driven by a booming entrepreneur population. Our role in Atlanta’s growth is to support and assist entrepreneurs to take their businesses to the next level wherever they may be in the business growth cycle. If you move to Atlanta as a business owner, you need to be engaged with the community. There is no better way to do that than joining the Atlanta Black Chambers, where, for example, you can attend events and activities that allow you to connect with other entrepreneurs. This is the Chamber’s role. It is the central place where business owners come together to get everything they need in the way of resources. This comes in the form of information, people, places and all those things that are important to a competitive, profitable, sustainable business.
Atlanta has a very rich business history and a strong legacy. There is a proud successful Black business community here. Atlanta is the only major city in America that has had African American mayors for 50 years since 1973. It is a special and great place for Black people, and we come here more than any other destination in America. We relocate to the ATL to start or expand our businesses because we have the confidence that we will be successful in this global hub of entrepreneurship.
What are some major challenges that the business community is facing right now and how are you navigating those challenges?
The pandemic shined a bright light on the challenges that exist for Black business owners all over America. Over 40% of Black owned businesses did not survive the pandemic. The most of any group. The Atlanta business community did not escape this harsh reality. The major challenges we are facing right now are the same issues that expedited the demise of all those Black businesses during the pandemic. The challenges of access to capital, access to networks and access to opportunities to scale our businesses still exist.
We are collaborating with our partners to provide all the support we can in this difficult lending environment. The Chamber is a trusted source of information. We consistently use our platform to promote opportunities and to inform business owners about things they need to know about. We can help them get capital by identifying alternative funding sources or through different government programs that they can apply for. The Chamber plays a critical role in connecting people with these opportunities, so they are aware of what is available.
We have been advocating for a very long time for greater access to contracting opportunities with the state. This would go a long way to help us scale our businesses. There are a great number of opportunities, but we must be prepared to move forward and navigate the process. A lot of Black business owners can’t access these opportunities. They don’t have the required certifications and they have challenges navigating the rigors of the process. We are assisting them to overcome these barriers to entry so they can seize the opportunity.
How are you helping to build the local talent pipeline?
Our Education and Workforce Development Committee provides the necessary leadership in this area. They identify opportunities for training that are useful now and far into the future. This is exactly what led to our business certification initiative. We are building a talent pipeline of businesses that are prepared and in position to perform and meet the demands of this ever-changing economy.
How have you been advising members to deal with inflation, interest rates and the labor shortage?
These are real concerns because they impact operating costs and our opportunities to access capital. Staffing and human resources are big challenges for everyone. We encourage our members and the broader community to collaborate and share information and resources so that we are all benefiting from the richness of a powerful ecosystem. We don’t want to operate in silos. Communication is critical and it comes back to the Chamber being the central place to connect with all the positive things that impact your business.
Being plugged in is the most important factor, so you can get out into the community to meet the right people. These relationships will move you forward much faster than the entrepreneur who is isolated from the community. Business moves at the speed of relationships.
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