The Madison Black Chamber of Commerce wants members to know they are not alone during this time of crisis.
The MBCC held a virtual Townhall Meeting on Wednesday. More than 30 people attended the event, which had a goal of understanding what Black business owners need, to successfully return and grow their business. The Chamber’s take-away message was that connection amongst Black business owners is just as important now as ever.
The moderators were Claude Gilmore, a retired non-profit executive and vice president of the MBCC; Jermaine Butler, president of Zenith Hospitality Group and Camille Carter, entrepreneur and president of the MCBB.
Madison entered Phase 2 of the county’s Forward Dane reopening plan on June 15, allowing businesses to operate at 50 percent capacity. Since March, businesses across the nation have had to move products from in-store to online, use virtual meetings to host events or temporarily close their doors.
The town hall was a direct conversation where members could ask questions about how to scale up their business even during a time of crisis and create an online presence. A concern from multiple participants was how to find financial resources for things like advertising and home technology to work remotely.
The moderators stressed the importance of business owners working together, and using the chamber as a resource.
“There is power in numbers,” Gilmore said. “We represent 300 members, and if we are all actively engaged, that is power. So it is not just about the Chamber, it is about who we represent. That is why it is important that we know who you are and what you are doing. Because we can bring that to someone and say we represent 300 people and they want this.”
Carter echoed that sentiment and mentioned that the Chamber can help business owners apply for the $10 million Dane County small business grant, which offers grants ranging from $1,000 to $50,000 through Dane Buy Local. And in March, right before Safer at Home orders took hold, the Chamber launched a membership program that can help businesses get discounts on insurance or credit card processors and helps members network.
“That is the challenge that I see working with our Black businesses; that we are so often working in our business that we don’t know how to work on our business,” Carter said. “That is equally as important — you have to take time away from your business to network, communicate with the chamber, volunteer with the chamber. For the last two years, I’ve been the president and have been pushing for networking ‘Lunch and Learns.’ Sadly those events are not populated with Black business owners….during this time we are all going to need one another.”
By the end of the event, business owners started discussing ways in which they can help each other. Martin Lackey, CEO at Lions Consulting LLC and board member of the Chamber, said he is available to help fellow entrepreneurs with marketing. He also challenged one another to support Black businesses. Shia Fisher, offered his services to help create business plans for fellow participants.
“Post COVID we really need to stand as a collective and support one another,” Carter said. “And to do business like we’ve not done business before. The Chamber recognizes that– we want to be a better Chamber, we want to be a stronger Chamber, we want to be a different Chamber because we are in different times than we’ve historically been. We accept the challenge. We want you to know you are not alone.”