Throughout an unprecedented year that has included a global pandemic and racial strife, minority communities have experienced a disproportionate share of challenges in terms of keeping their businesses open and people employed. Fortunately, groups like the African American Chamber of Commerce of Western PA are advancing their efforts to help Black and minority-owned businesses in the region navigate these challenges, in an effort to emerge with a stronger economy than ever. The PA Chamber sat down with AACCWP President Doris Carson Williams to ask how her organization has taken up this important leadership mantle during an extremely difficult 2020.
How is your organization working to combat the devastating realities that have occurred this year?
We are working diligently with corporations and nonprofits to engage them with our members to pursue doing business. We are also soliciting new members, which to date, we have had 25 new members join the Chamber since the epidemic began. We are working with major corporations to further discussions on the systemic impact of racism and how they can help eradicate the problem.
Approximately how many Black-owned businesses operate in your region, and how does your organization work toward improving the success of these businesses?
While that is a number we have tried to determine through research and our own organization, there is not a definite count. We estimate there are approximately 3,000 black owned businesses in our 10 county region.
The U.S. Chamber has embarked on a new “Equality of Opportunity” initiative that is advancing economic inclusion across America through business leadership. How do you feel that chambers of commerce can be uniquely effective in carrying out this mission?
All Chambers need to reach out in within their footprint to welcome diverse business leaders and include them in their membership and Board of Directors. If Black Business owners are not at the table, they cannot be represented properly and engaged with majority firms to strengthen their regions. Equally important, it is a great beginning for building relationships and learning we are similar and all in this together.
What plans does the African American Chamber of Western PA have to advance your mission in the remainder of 2020 and into 2021?
We are conducting all our programs and events virtually, obtaining corporate sponsors to support our events, and highlight our partners to encourage hiring of minority, moving minorities forward to be part of the c-Suite. Equally as important, we are helping corporations identity minority firms for major corporations to do business with, with them starting as subcontractors and over time being elevated to become prime suppliers.
What is the main message you’d like to relay to our readership about the critical culture and economic role that Black-owned businesses play in Pennsylvania?
It’s about relationship building! Black owned businesses play a critical role in helping to build our economy, but we if we are not in the room when the deals are being done, we are eliminated. Therefore, inclusion is the key.
Founded in 1916, the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry is the state's largest broad-based business association, with its membership comprising businesses of all sizes and across all industry sectors. The PA Chamber is The Statewide Voice of BusinessTM.