2 min read June 2022 — In an interview with Invest:, Shanté Williams, president and chair of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Black Chamber of Commerce, talked about the Chamber’s achievements over the last year and how it continues to support Black entrepreneurs and business owners through their offerings and programs.
What have been some milestones from the last year?
We reset the way we support businesses, making sure we not only helped them navigate the pandemic but also ensured they were able to stay open and come out of the thick of it stronger. Over the last 12 months, our success has been in being able to see 85% of businesses that were previously 30 days away from closing report that they were generating more revenue than they were in 2019. The recovery hasn’t been even for everyone but in supporting those who needed it with funding and technical assistance, we strengthened our relationships with partners and with businesses.
As a Chamber, we came out stronger and forged a lot of new relationships. We got to know some of the other chambers better as well, leading to the development of a new ecosystem. We’ve also been able to harness a bit of the momentum from the racial inequity talks that occurred during the George Floyd protests. We are excited to see the next steps moving forward.
What are some strategies you are implementing to support businesses?
Black businesses always need customers, so patronizing businesses and becoming long-standing customers is important at all levels of the supply chain and not just restaurants. I look forward to when we don’t have to say Black business owners and just need to support businesses. Once we all take a piece of responsibility for supporting small businesses the easier it will be.
What is the importance of nurturing a diverse and equal business community?
From an economics perspective, it allows for a larger tax base. By nurturing the small-business owners in a city in a diverse and equally distributed way, the tax base grows and more people pay into the system, meaning schools get better housing, the area becomes more affordable and you have a city that feels more equitable. Diversity doesn’t just support individuals. I think that point gets missed a lot. Inequity inevitably hurts everyone. Diversity isn’t just the right thing to do, it is the thing that should be done because that is what we need for economic viability. A city does itself a favor by supporting everyone in an equitable fashion.
What are some programs in the Chamber’s pipeline?
We have a new program coming down the pipeline that will help people who want to up-skill and those who are thinking about transitioning professions for the jobs of tomorrow. We help workers build up their skill sets in coding and IT and or training to become a healthcare provider. We hope to be announcing a partnership soon so we can start building up younger professionals with training for entry-level jobs and to meet the needs of the companies clamoring to hire them.
How do you keep in touch with your members?
We have to be extremely agile. We go to community meetings and neighborhood listening sessions. I held a series of chats with other chairs that people could come to listen to. Our social media receives a lot of messages as well. We have had to really adapt over the last few years and talk to a lot of media to stay connected. That two-way communication is definitely something we are making sure remains available.
Is there any legislation you are following that could impact your members?
We are always following legislation. As we look to the future of banking and finance, we are looking at things like fintech, blockchain and digital currencies. We are waiting to see if they will be regulated because we don’t want people to be barred from cutting-edge innovations. We also want to make sure homeownership is attainable and we are always interested in wealth-building.
One of the issues we have started paying more attention to is healthcare, especially as we look to maternal mortality and the disproportionate rate of death for Black mothers. We want to make sure entrepreneurs who cannot afford health insurance don’t have to fall into financial ruin to pay for medical bills. Not having healthcare is a dangerous thing and not having coverage means you are less likely to get care. Having that advocacy for our business owners is important.
What are your priorities for the next two to three years?
We are going to be focused on everything and making sure that the organization remains sustainable. We’ve had to figure out how to continue providing value; we have become more of a funder and we can direct people to sources of capital to get them off the ground. We want to continue being the place where people can increase their economic mobility. We want to continue focusing on broad-based economic vitality and will continue forging partnerships that will allow for grants.
As we move forward, I hope we continue having evergreen conversations about diversity as consistent activity is the best avenue for change rather than episodic spurts. We talk about ecosystems and within that everyone plays their role. I’m looking forward to playing mine and pushing all these other leaders toward greatness as well.
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