After meeting virtually for the past two years due to the coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. Black Chambers, Inc., recently met in person here in the District at its National Conference and School of Chamber Management at the Marriott Marquis. Their goal: to continue educating its members about the latest developments in chapter operations and information regarding business opportunities.
The U.S. Black Chambers, Inc. (USBC), with headquarters in Northwest, serves as the trade association for Black chambers of commerce throughout the nation. With over 150 Black chambers as members, its mission statement states the following: “provides committed, visionary leadership and advocacy in the realization of economic empowerment.”
“Through the creation of resources and initiatives, we support African-American chambers of commerce and business organizations in their work of developing and growing Black enterprises,” the mission statement said.
Ron Busby Sr., president and CEO of the USBC, said its conference comes at a critical time for Blacks.
“In the past two years, we have lost 41% of Black businesses,” Busby said. “Seventy percent of the entrepreneurs who went under told us it was due to a lack of information. During the early and middle stages of the pandemic, entrepreneurs were deluged with information but were unfamiliar on how to utilize it.”
Busby said, “at this conference, we wanted to give the chamber presidents information for their members so they can be successful.”
Conference participants had the opportunity to attend workshops on topics including: access to capital, business advocacy, federal contracting, certification for government programs, chamber governance, operations and management. They also received recent information about resources that the USBC has to offer and visited Capitol Hill. In-person meetings allowed them to speak with top officials like U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg who discussed programs available to Black businesses and to representatives from the U.S. Census Bureau, Housing and Urban Development and the Small Business Administration who each offered tips on how to best utilize their individual programs and initiatives.
U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) served as the keynote speaker at the USBC Advocacy Luncheon and said bluntly during his remarks, “We need Black businesses.”
“There is a situation where Disadvantaged Business Enterprises are getting government contracts and they are not Black,” Johnson said. “I put an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that ensures that the contracting process is fair for minority businesses, particularly those owned by Blacks.”
Johnson said he has also worked with other lawmakers to see that an equitable share of advertising goes to Black media.
“I would like to see Black media gets some of those Defense Department advertising dollars,” he said.
Rep. Donald Payne (D-N.J.) chairs the Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials subcommittee on the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Payne told the gathering of his effort to have Black businesses participate in the 10-year, $12.3 billion New Jersey-New York City area above-ground bridges and underground tunnel project scheduled to begin this year led by the Gateway Development Commission.
“Protecting Black businesses is essential to me,” Payne said. “As long as I am chair of the subcommittee, minorities and women will be involved in these types of projects. But Black businesses will need to work together to shatter the barriers.”
In video messages, Rep. Troy Carter (D-La.) talked about his efforts to increase funding and support for the 8A small business program and Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) expressed his support for Black enterprises and the role one of his former colleagues, the late Baltimore federal lawmaker Parren Mitchell, played in advocating minority contracting as a part of the federal government’s manner of conducting business.
Former Maytag CEO Lloyd Ward talked about investment opportunities in Africa. He voiced concerns that Africa has the most abundant natural resources of any continent in the world but that most African nations have budgets supported by non-African, foreign aid.
“There are trillion-dollar platforms available in Africa and we as Black business people in the diaspora have to take advantage of that,” Ward said.
Antwanye Ford, the CEO of Enlightened, Inc. based in Ward 8, and the founder of the Greater Washington Black Chamber of Commerce and a board member of the USBC, said the enthusiasm generated by the conference shows that Black businesses need to work together more often.
“We are a collective,” Ford said. “We are in the business of sharing information. There is no reason businesses in Baltimore can’t conduct business in New York City.”
Rashawn Scarbo, owner of Bloom Bold Co., in Philadelphia, said she found the conference to be beneficial.
“I found it informative as a small business owner,” Scarbo said. “I can apply the business principles I learned here.”
Kendrick Tilghman, who serves as the president of the Greater Baltimore Black Chamber of Commerce, said attending the conference helped him to build relationships.
“We as Black businesses have to look at joint ventures as a way to conduct business,” he said. “Only 2% of Black businesses have operations that have more than one employee. Too many Black businesses are in silos and we should be working together.”