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New Black Chamber of Commerce forms in Grand Rapids

New chambers of commerce are starting to form in cities across Michigan to support African-American business leaders. The Michigan Black Chamber of Commerceis working to charter local black chambers in several cities. The group wants to empower African-American business leaders to overcome unique challenges, like historically bad access to capital.

Leaders of the newly-formed Grand Rapids Black Chamber of Commerceare hoping to empower African-American business owners.

The Grand Rapids Black Chamber of Commerce is the first regionally chartered black chamber in Michigan. Grand Rapids attorney Patrick Miles is the group’s first elected president.

“Many different ethnic groups support their own businesses, if you will, and in the black community that hasn’t been done to the same extent. A lot of that is frankly due to lack of awareness.”

Miles says the black Chamber of Commerce isn’t competing against other chambers in the region. He lists more than a half a dozen chambers in the West Michigan region, many with overlapping boundaries. Rather he says the organization will help African-American business owners address their unique needs.

He says African-American business leaders don’t have a good network of role-models.

“We need that in this community. This is a community of entrepreneurs. It’s a community of collaboration and so we need everyone pitching in to make it better.”

Miles says a stronger minority-owned business community is good for the community as a whole.

Carlos Sanchez is Executive Director of the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. It was founded nearly a decade ago. He says there are advantages to building a community, a network, of similar minded people.

Usually people like to do business with people they know already,” Sanchez said, “So we’re starting to form a network of businesses to start doing business with another and with that, build the capacity so that we can go outside the network and compete.”

The West Michigan Hispanic Chamber has more than 200 members. The newly founded Grand Rapids Black Chamber has around 40. Miles hopes to get closer to 100 members by the end of his two-year term.

Black Chambers of Commerce are also forming in Lansing, Detroit and Flint under the larger, statewide, Michigan Black Chamber of Commerce.

Lindsey Smith helps lead the station'sAmplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.