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The chair of the board of the District of Columbia Chamber of Commerce realizes that she must represent the interests of every business in the city, but makes it clear that her home, Ward 8, will receive special attention.
Earlier this year, Tonya Vidal Kinlow, a resident of Ward 8’s Bellevue neighborhood, was announced as the board chair of the District chamber. Kinlow, who works as a vice president of community engagement, advocacy, and government affairs for Children’s National, said serving as the chair is an honor.
“I have been an active member of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce for many, many years,” Kinlow, 61, said. “I have particularly worked on the government affairs committee. I look forward to taking on this leadership role representing the entire D.C. business community.”
The chamber started operating on June 20, 1938, as the Washington, D.C. Chamber of Commerce. The organization formed to provide services for Black businesses in the city, with the renaming in 1946 as the Negro Chamber of Commerce to reflect its unique needs of Black businesses. In 1956, the leadership of the Negro Chamber re-evaluated the needs of businesses in the city and renamed itself as the District of Columbia Chamber of Commerce. With the new name, it offered services to any business in the city that needed it. Presently, Angela Franco serves as the chamber’s president and CEO.
Kinlow’s Goals for the Chamber
As a resident of Bellevue, Kinlow said she wants to see the chamber expand its reach to her ward and the adjacent Ward 7.
“I would like to see the chamber support the businesses that are there more, as well as those who operate east of the river,” she said. “I am going to make sure that it takes care of my backyard.”
In concert with supporting east of the Anacostia River businesses, Kinlow will work to get them to join the chamber and seek to have some of its activities take place in the area. She said as a part of her duties to represent business interests before the D.C. Council and the Executive Office of the Mayor, she will incorporate their concerns into the organization’s agenda.
“We are working on how to increase networking among our small businesses and listening to our business owners to see how we can better serve them,” Kinlow said.
Kinlow realizes the chamber has a reputation among some people as operating for the benefit of large corporations. Nothing could be further from the truth, she said.
“We have a diversity of membership,” she said. “Of our 1,100 members, 20% consists of large corporations, 20% are mid-size businesses and 60% are small and local firms. Of the 60%, 40% are minority owned. Large corporations are important because they pay their dues due to their size. However, small businesses are the heart of the D.C. Chamber.”
Kinlow understands that many entrepreneurs are busy running their businesses and often do not have time to participate in the chamber’s activities. She said the organization has made allowances for that.
“We have an email communications system that keeps our members updated,” Kinlow said. “Many of our events are planned far in advance so members can make plans to attend them. Members can participate in a wide range of committees, and they can call in if necessary to attend these meetings. Through our ChamberWorks program, we are also working to keep our members engaged by introducing them to our programs.”
Kinlow said the chamber wants businesses of all sizes, wherever they are in the city, to use it as a resource and be a good corporate citizen.
“We want to create space for businesses to thrive,” she said. “We are all looking after one another.”