Street Talk: Being good neighbors

Holiday presence.
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The West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is on the receiving end of $150,000 in grant funding from Bank of America.

The chamber was recognized last week as a 2021 Neighborhood Champion, a honor that includes both grant funding and executive leadership development. As part of the program, the WMHCC will receive a $50,000 two-year grant and an opportunity for engagement in executive leadership coaching delivered by national experts in the nonprofit sector on topics like human capital management, increasing financial sustainability and strategic storytelling.

In 2019, in order to scale funding and expertise to more communities, the bank introduced the Neighborhood Champions program, which supports the role strong nonprofit leaders play in advancing economic mobility. While the Neighborhood Builders program is designed to support 100 major and metro markets, Neighborhood Champions was established to support 42 suburban markets and smaller communities across the U.S.

The Neighborhood Champions program is invitation-only for nonprofits that are poised to take their work to the next level. Leading members of the community participated in a collaborative selection process to identify this year’s awardee.

“We are tremendously grateful for the ongoing support and meaningful partnership with Bank of America,” said WMHCC President and CEO Guillermo Cisneros. “The pandemic has already created numerous challenges for small businesses, which is only further complicated by the inequities that are oftentimes experienced by minority entrepreneurs. The wonderful grant support, including valuable leadership training afforded through the Neighborhood Champions program, will allow us to further assist in the professional growth and economic advancement of Hispanic-owned businesses and leaders in our community.”

Since 2004, through its Neighborhood Builders and Neighborhood Champions programs, Bank of America has invested more than $285 million in 92 communities across the U.S., partnered with more than 1,400 nonprofits, and helped more than 2,800 nonprofit leaders strengthen their leadership skills.

In addition, the bank has awarded WMHCC a $100,000 grant to further advance economic opportunity for Hispanic-owned small businesses that will enable them to develop a strong Latino talent pipeline and create employment opportunities. Funding will be in support of two key chamber initiatives that include Transformando West Michigan and Building Bridges through Education (BBTE). 

Transformando is a business training program that aims to help business owners achieve a new level of financial mobility, prosperity and stability. It provides small business owners with resources, educational programs and networking opportunities to help them grow their business. BBTE, a 2021 Examples of Excelencia finalist, helps prepare and connect high-potential Latinx college students with the tools and opportunities to reach their career goals. It also educates and encourages businesses to invest in their community by creating jobs and internship opportunities.

“Bank of America strives to help local economies prosper by supporting business ownership to create sustainable, financially healthy and diverse communities,” said Renee Tabben, president, Bank of America Grand Rapids. “The West Michigan Hispanic Chamber has provided critical leadership in our community helping businesses, individuals and families create a path toward economic opportunity and stability. We are excited to name them a Neighborhood Champion and provide additional grants to support Latinx college students and give Hispanic small businesses many of the tools they need to succeed.”

‘Tis the season

The 2021 holiday season appears to be on track to exceed the National Retail Federation’s forecast for record spending despite supply chain disruptions, inflation and challenges like the new COVID-19 omicron variant, NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said.

“Now that we’re in December, the holiday shopping season is nearing the finish line,” Kleinhenz said. “The question is how have factors ranging from economic indicators to the twists of the COVID-19 pandemic affected the season so far, and what role will they play in the (days) that remain? There’s no crystal ball to provide a definitive answer, but the latest data is encouraging and provides useful insights. In fact, the season could turn out even better than we expected.”

He said consumers and retailers have revised their “playbooks and broken with previous traditions.” 

Kleinhenz’s remarks came in the December issue of NRF’s Monthly Economic Review, which said holiday retail sales during November and December could now grow as much as 11.5% over the same period in 2020. That would exceed NRF’s forecast that holiday sales would be up between 8.5% and 10.5%.

Many consumers started holiday shopping earlier than ever this year because of concerns over supply chain disruptions, he said.

“The holiday season clearly looks to be off to a good start,” Kleinhenz said. “Consumers remain in solid financial shape and do not appear to be stretched.”

One red flag might be the COVID-19 omicron variant, but Kleinhenz said it is too early to predict what impact it will have on the economy.

The first official holiday results won’t be known until the Census Bureau reports November sales on Dec. 15. But overall consumer spending — beyond just retail sales — rose by 1.3% in October, the largest monthly increase since March, and “there was no evidence of a pullback” despite prices increases that have come with inflation caused by supply chain disruptions and increased demand.

Over the past year, disposable personal income has been up 4.1% and spending has increased 12%. Initial unemployment claims fell to their lowest level since 1969 the weekend before Thanksgiving, and 546,000 jobs were added to payrolls in October, followed by another 210,000 in November, according to the NRF. In addition, the November unemployment rate fell to a new pandemic low of 4.2%. Continued strong growth rates will reduce the 4.2 million jobs needed to return employment to pre-pandemic levels, Kleinhenz said.

The increased retail sales and strong economic indicators come despite falling consumer confidence. The University of Michigan Index of Consumer Sentiment declined to 67.4 in November, its lowest level in a decade, but Kleinhenz said spending data is a more relevant measure of consumer behavior.

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