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Chamber of Commerce Launches Initiative to Increase Diversity and Equity in Metropolitan Business Community – The Daily Gazette

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COLONIE — The Capital Region Chamber of Commerce has launched an initiative to support minority-owned businesses and increase diversity, equity and inclusion in other businesses.

The initiative, which has received $1.5 million in support from multiple organizations, aims to open doors of opportunity to a wider segment of the population.

But sometimes that’s not enough, the initiative’s leaders said in a formal announcement on Thursday. To extend the metaphor, some members of the Black/Indigenous/People of Color community need help finding a door, or knowing what to do once they walk through it. Some people don’t know.

“What we see in BIPOC businesses, especially black businesses, is that they are able to guide us because we are not from families that have owned businesses for generations,” said BIPOC Business Growth. said Danielle Davis, who joined the Chamber in May as director of charge.

“The barrier isn’t necessarily ‘no, you can’t go here’, it’s not knowing you can go here,” she said. “We are starting at a low level.”

The Chamber’s four-year initiative, Accelerating Inclusive Economic Opportunity, is supported by $1.5 million in funding from Business for Good, CDPHP, and the KeyBank Foundation.

It provides free support to BIPOC-owned companies to grow their business, supports practices within the greater business community, and promotes equity.

President and CEO Mark Egan said the Chamber of Commerce is often viewed as a business development organization for its 2,700 member companies and 150,000 employees. However, the success of these businesses depends on the health of the community as a whole, and the health of a community depends in no small part on equal access to opportunities for all members of that community.

“This is the foundation of all the work that the Chamber of Commerce and our affiliate, the Center for Economic Growth, are doing,” Egan said.

As the chamber seeks ways to promote fairness, Egan said it has found companies that want to join the effort but don’t know where to start.

To help them make connections, the Chamber of Commerce has added Jason Benitez as Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. I brought Davis. And this week, we launched this initiative.

Benitez et al. say fairness is a key factor. Diversity and inclusion are relatively easy to achieve in diverse communities, but more effort is needed to proactively identify equity and remove barriers. Benitez called it a planned journey in progress.

“This funding allows us to do just that,” he told sponsors of the effort.

Davis recalled his experience running a Jamaican restaurant in Albany.

“As an entrepreneur myself, I know first-hand the difficulties and obstacles facing small businesses,” she said. “As I have found, trying to do everything yourself and not taking advantage of the resources that exist can lead to unenforced errors and eventual failure. , especially for BIPOC business, is a bumpy road.”

The difficulty of navigating the road alone gave Davis a desire to change the landscape and help others navigate the road.

“If BIPOC businesses thrive, our communities will thrive,” she said, noting the high failure rate of black-owned businesses. Latino business owners, on the other hand, have the fastest growth rate of any demographic group in America, but they still face challenges in accessing capital, she said.

Davis is out in the BIPOC business community spreading the message about new initiatives.

“What I do is call companies and go out and meet entrepreneurs,” she said.

Networks and leads from people like Ron Gardner, Affirmative Action Officer at Schenectady, are especially valuable.

“That’s word of mouth,” she said.

Business For Good CEO Jahkeen Hoke said his organization’s support is an investment in the local ecosystem. “We need more people at the table, more people who see this as a model and go as far as they can.”

Dr. John Bennett, President and CEO of CDPHP, said the health plan invests heavily in health equity and health literacy. He sees the Chamber of Commerce initiative as an extension of that. “We have the opportunity to really impact people’s lives … in the broader context of health, within the social determinants of health,” he said.

Tamika Otis, KeyBank’s head of corporate responsibility for the metropolitan area, said some people don’t understand the historical context that continues to create barriers to equality.

“That’s the great thing about this program. It helps us deliver the results we want,” she said.

Barriers to fairness still exist today, but are mostly more subtle than they were a few generations ago, Otis said. “The beautiful thing is that we recognize it now. We are working together.”

Initiatives to help BIPOC-owned businesses include one-on-one engagements, access to resources, funding for expert consultations, referral and networking events, educational sessions and skill-building classes, and a year of free commerce and industry. Professional development through chamber membership and assistance in obtaining state certification as a minority/women owned business.

To help other businesses build diversity, equity and inclusion, the Chamber promotes the moral and economic benefits of DEI practices, offers workshops and training, and engages with employers. We connect potential employees, provide referral sources, provide resources and guidance to promote DEI practices, and provide marketing. / Outreach to attract and retain a diverse workforce.

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