Wyoming Kentwood Chamber forms BIPOC advisory council to convene minority business leaders

The Wyoming Kentwood Chamber hopes that the newly formed BIPOC Business Leader Advisory Board will give a voice to business owners and entrepreneurs from underrepresented but demographically significant communities.

Chamber President Keith Morgan has scheduled the first meeting for mid-October to gauge interest in the new advisory board. The event attracted 25 people from a variety of backgrounds and businesses who wanted to get involved, Morgan said. The first meeting focused on hearing the concerns of business owners and developing a plan focused on the “most impactful but highly actionable” ways forward, Morgan added.

“One of the concerns I see is that when we call people, the thought is in the air. What I’m saying is that we have all these ideas, so let’s consolidate a few and agree on three or four action points that we can do that are highly effective and actionable,” Morgan said. MiBiz. “The measure of success will be if we are able to complete these items and establish some standards of measurement.”

The Wyoming Kentwood Chamber created an advisory board that focuses on people of color because they are a fundamental part of the two communities. Wyoming and Kentwood are the two most populous and racially diverse communities adjacent to the city of Grand Rapids.

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The city of Wyoming has an estimated population of 76,749, while the city of Kentwood has an estimated population of 54,141, according to the latest 2021 U.S. Census data. About 52,000 people of color live in both communities, making up about 40 percent of the combined population.

“The goal of the BIPOC Leader Advisory Board is to create a space for people who don’t usually sit at the table to feel heard, have an opportunity to voice their concerns, and have enough people around the table to start looking for solutions to problems. Morgan said.

Identification of challenges

The BIPOC Leader’s Advisory Council will likely meet quarterly. At the first information meeting, company leaders identified the lack of manpower and the need for more tools for workforce development as the main obstacles to their business. These are issues that most businesses face in the current economic climate, but by focusing on how to help people of color, the goal is to bridge the gap between all businesses, Morgan said.

“There’s a lot that can help one segment of the community and that can be a resource for the larger community or entrepreneurs to help their business,” Morgan said. “I also see an opportunity for larger businesses that aren’t owned by people of color to get into a community that they don’t typically have as good a connection with,” Morgan said.

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Elisa Rodriguez manages Banquet hall in view, a new location that’s been open for about a year in Kentwood. She participated in the first BIPOC Leaders Advisory Council and believes it will be a useful tool for business owners.

“It was more networking, which I feel like we haven’t touched outside of a certain circle,” Rodriguez said. “A lot of places book training and seminars during the week, but that’s something we’ve had trouble taking advantage of. We don’t know how to network in this world.’

Many minority business owners are also unfamiliar with the tools that chambers of commerce can offer. Convening minority business leaders is useful for educating about these resources, Rodriguez said.

“Council is definitely needed,” Rodriguez said. “I think brainstorming and meeting people from different backgrounds can be very powerful.”

The advisory board’s goals include creating a mentorship program for businesses and compiling several trainings and best practices, Morgan said. The Wyoming Kentwood Chamber also plans to put together a business directory to help people more easily find businesses owned by people of color, Morgan said.

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“Some of these things have already been created, so I wouldn’t say it’s Earth-shattering and brand new, but our area is big enough and there’s enough room to offer these resources as well,” Morgan said.

People call the chamber looking for specific kinds of businesses to work with that are women-owned or black-owned, Morgan said. Creating your own directory would create another online resource for those people and raise awareness of the various businesses, Morgan added.

“For me, I realized that I don’t have the time, the space, the capacity to try to separate different kinds of communities, and there’s a lot of overlap and similar concerns going on in those communities,” Morgan said. “If we put something together that’s a little more comprehensive, we can go back to high impact instead of having to duplicate the same types of services in different communities.”

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