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Leveling The Playing Field Through Partnerships

As a business owner for over four decades and the co-founder and chairman of the Greater Los Angeles African American Chamber of Commerce (GLAAACC) for the past 30 years, I believe that partnerships and collaborations are the most effective way to grow and sustain a successful business community. The present socially conscious business climate presents a unique opportunity for Black-owned businesses in conjunction with corporations to reset and level the playing field.

In many ways, the pandemic pushed a reset button on the global economy and awakened a new sense of the essential. Programs, services, and even activities that were once deemed indispensable in a pre-pandemic world were put on hold, and a new consciousness emerged.

In the business sector, the disparate impact of the COVID shutdown on black entrepreneurs and businesses was profound. A UC Santa Cruz study showed that 40% of Black-owned firms closed in the immediate aftermath of the outbreak versus 20% of all active U.S. businesses.

With the support and assistance of organizations like GLAAACC, Black workers, following a layoff or prolonged period of remote work, reevaluated their careers and turned adversity into opportunity by starting businesses of their own. In the past year, there were more new Black-owned businesses proportionate to the total population than at any time in the last quarter-century, according to the Kauffman Foundation’s annual study.

In addition to being a resource for start-ups, GLAAACC partnered with the City and County of Los Angeles, the State of California, and the federal government to present town hall meetings, business and networking conferences, technical assistance, and capacity-building workshops and seminars. These programs assisted existing small Black-owned businesses to pivot into a new or additional service.

Recently, GLAAACC, along with other Black Chambers, granted beneficiaries of the SBA’s Community Navigator Pilot Program, where funds were distributed to organizations with deep roots in their communities.

In our role as a business hub, GLAAACC continues to provide recovery services such as financial assistance, access to capital supports, contracting and procurement assistance, marketing, operations, and business development, export and import, and industry-specific training, among other areas of technical assistance to aid businesses in stabilization and expansion.

As inflation increases and the economy slows the economy, it will be increasingly important to maintain a socially conscious business community. For Black businesses, disingenuous good faith efforts and onerous minimum qualifications must be overcome to fully participate in the new normal business climate.

Many veteran Black business owners have become wary of partnering with large corporations who partner with minority businesses in order to land large contracts with government agencies or utility companies that require minority participation. Serial entrepreneur and small business advocate Ronda Jackson said providing equitable opportunity for small business owners goes beyond the standard “good faith effort.”

Jackson is a graduate of GLAAACC’s Business Evolution Program (BEP), where a promising business owner is selected and receives one on one mentoring for a year by veteran CEOs and subject matter experts in an effort to provide the knowledge, tools, and access to take their business to the next level. During the pandemic, the need for guidance, mentorship, and access grew, prompting GLAAACC to expand BEP to a cohort of 13 businesses.

“Calling me and putting my name on a list, whether or not they’ve interviewed me or actually presented an actual opportunity, allows the company to check off a box when they submit a proposal but actually does nothing for me,” Jackson said.

Jackson’s point is echoed throughout the Black business community. In a socially conscious business community, companies use their position and resources for something more than pleasing their shareholders and increasing their bottom line. They operate on a business model that focuses on social change, sharing its success with their local communities.

It is important for corporations to understand the value and the power of diversity to increase their market share and strengthen communities. This can be done quantitatively through diversity- ty, equity, and inclusion metrics and qualitatively through company culture. Black business owners, in turn, must continue to wield their collective power and increase their effectiveness as a force in the global supply chain.

Gene Hale full headshot

Gene Hale is chairman of the Greater Los Angeles African American Chamber of Commerce. Learn more at glaaacc.org.

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