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Published in Talent

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

BY Friday, November 04, 2022 01:28pm

The Wyoming Kentwood Chamber hopes a newly formed BIPOC Business Leader Advisory Council gives a voice to business owners and entrepreneurs from underrepresented yet demographically prominent communities.

Chamber President Keith Morgan scheduled the first meeting in mid-October to gauge interest in the new advisory council. The event drew 25 people from a wide range of backgrounds and businesses who wanted to get involved, Morgan said. The first meeting centered around listening to business owners’ concerns and developing a plan to target the “most impactful but highly actionable” ways to move forward, Morgan added.

“One of the concerns I see is when we convene people, the idea sits in the ether. With this I’m saying, we’ve got all these ideas, so let’s solidify a few and agree on three or four action items we can do that are highly impactful and actionable,” Morgan told MiBiz. “The measure of success will be if we are able to complete those items and create some standards of measurement.”

The Wyoming Kentwood Chamber developed an advisory council that focuses on people of color because they are a core part of the two communities. Wyoming and Kentwood are the two most populated and most racially diverse neighboring communities to the city of Grand Rapids.

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 U.S. Census Bureau data from 2021. About 52,000 people of color live in both communities, making up about 40 percent of the combined population.

“The BIPOC Leader Advisory Council aims to create a space for people who typically aren’t at the table and make them feel heard, have a voice and express their concerns and have enough people around the table to begin to find resolutions to the problems,” Morgan said. 

Identifying challenges

The BIPOC Leader Advisory Council will likely hold quarterly meetings. Business leaders at the first informational meeting identified the labor shortage and a need for more workforce development tools as some main obstacles for their businesses. These are issues most businesses are facing 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 is a lot that can go into being able to 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 are not owned by people of color to reach into a community that they typically don’t have as good of a connection with,” Morgan said.

Elisa Rodriguez manages Viewpond Banquet Hall, a new venue that has been open for roughly a year in Kentwood. She attended the first BIPOC Leaders Advisory Council and believes it will be a useful tool for business owners.

“It’s been more of the networking that I feel like we haven’t been tapping into outside of a certain radius,” Rodriguez said. “During the week, a lot of venues book trainings and seminars, but that is something we’ve had difficulty tapping into. We don’t know how to network in that world.”

Many minority business owners also are unfamiliar with the tools that area chambers of commerce can offer. Convening minority business leaders is useful to educate about those resources, Rodriguez said.

“The council is definitely needed,” Rodriguez said. “I think people brainstorming and coming together from different backgrounds can be very powerful.”

Advisory Council goals include forming a mentoring program for businesses and putting together some training and best practices, Morgan said. The Wyoming Kentwood Chamber also plans to put together a business directory that can help people more easily find businesses owned by people of color, Morgan said.

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

People call the Chamber looking for specific kinds of businesses to partner with that are women-owned or Black-owned, Morgan said. Creating its own directory would create another online resource for those people and make others more aware of different businesses, Morgan added.

“For me, I realized I don’t have the time, space and capacity to try to separate the different kinds of communities, and there is a lot of overlap and similar concerns happening across these communities,” Morgan said. “If we put something together that is a little more encompassing, we can get back to having a high impact as opposed to having to duplicate the same types of services across separate communities.”

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