We have heard that “rising tides lifts all boats”. The originator of this saying is unknown, John Kennedy is credited for making the statement in a speech. As with most urban legends, the more it is said, the more factual will become. In this new economy, the positive economic tide is not affecting all boats. Some are experiencing the stronger economy while others are left high and dry. We cannot live by the rising tide belief while supporting the new economy or innovative economy strategy.
At the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, we wanted to see a more diversified membership but did not know the economic demographics well enough to accomplish this goal. After searching the market for reliable data with no success, we decided to take matters into our own hands. We hired an economist who did the analysis that told us the problem we expected, however, the degree of disparity was unexpected. We have a diverse population that is celebrated in our community. Conversely, economically, diversity was lacking.
In 2016 we published “Vision 2026”, a ten-year vision plan for the Chamber. The pillars of the plan are to be a Catalyst for change in the community, the Hub for business, and to be an Inclusive Organization, built on a foundation of Organizational Excellence. The Inclusion pillar was going to be our heaviest lift. The economic study showed that our region is made up of 49% Black or Hispanic owned businesses. However, they contribute 5% to the local economy. Large companies are wanting help to find qualified minority subcontractors, while minority firms are asking for help to get to know the large businesses. We discovered that by our work on the Inclusion pillar we would also be the Hub for these businesses to connect and the Catalyst for changing the business community.
We studied the problem locally but looked nationally for advice. With excellent mentoring and assistance from the Cincinnati and Greenville, SC Chambers of Commerce, we learned what to do and, more importantly, what NOT to do to start a Minority Business Accelerator (MBA) program. After visiting both Chambers, countless calls and a three-year study period, we began our MBA program with strong support from the community. 2018 is the first full year of a two-year program for our first cohort, that will also include a three-year monitoring afterwards. Later this year we will select our second cohort. Our goal: strengthen the overall business climate by helping all businesses to succeed. We will not guarantee their success, but we will do everything in our power to help businesses have the skills and opportunities to achieve success they earn.
The most satisfying result as we are half way through our first year into to the program, is having other organizations come to us to ask how we can help them diversify their organizations and how they can get involved with our MBA program. This all started by knowing the facts and ignoring myths.