GRAND RAPIDS — The Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce today launched a new initiative that intends to create greater economic diversity and inclusion.
Looking to “support a more dynamic economy,” the Center for Economic Inclusion will work to address barriers business owners face by providing technical assistance, leadership development, skills training for employees, access to attractive lending and strategies for connecting to customers, Chamber President and CEO Rick Baker said in an announcement of the center’s creation.
The Center for Economic Inclusion provides greater structure and builds on the Chamber’s existing efforts to promote and create greater economic diversity in Grand Rapids.
“Inclusive economic development is a core component of our work because helping everyone prosper is a growth and competitiveness imperative. The Center will take our work to the next level,” Baker said.
The announcement coincided with the City of Grand Rapids’ Welcoming Week this week where Mayor Rosalynn Bliss urged residents to come together “to build stronger communities and relationships with all our neighbors, renew our commitment to our common values, and take action in the spirit of welcoming.”
The Grand Rapids Chamber cites data that show that less than 1 percent of businesses generating $250,000 or more in annual revenues are owned by people of color, and 98 percent are white-owned businesses.
“We need — and intend — to make a dent in these numbers. The need to effectively address barriers to entrepreneurs of color is apparent and our goal is to play a significant part in meeting it,” said Attah Obande, vice president of business and talent development at the Chamber and leader of the Center for Economic Inclusion. “The Center for Economic Inclusion is a holistic approach, addressing the lived experience of entrepreneurs of color. It will connect entrepreneurs to already existing services within the ecosystem and provide opportunities through programs and services needed for a business scale.”
In the first year, the center aims to hold 150 one-on-one consultations with businesses, make 60 referrals to entrepreneurial support organizations, host 60 participants in development programs, certify 100 businesses, and provide $500,000 in approved loan referrals.
Goals for the second year expands to consulting with 300 businesses, 150 entrepreneurial support organization referrals, hosting 100 development program participants, certifying 200 businesses, and providing $1 million approved loan referrals.
“The Center for Economic Inclusion is a great next step in building a better West Michigan,” said Jeff Connolly, chair of the Grand Rapids Chamber Board and senior vice president and president of West Michigan and the Upper Peninsula for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, said in a statement. “When individuals in families with lower incomes have access to networks and resources that improve their upward mobility, the overall economy and community benefits. Given our collaborative spirit, I believe the Grand Rapids business community is ready to help make this a success and be a nationally leading example for economic inclusion efforts.”