Grand Rapids Chamber launches inclusion-focused economic center

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Attah Obande. Courtesy Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce

The Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce is responding to poor representation of people of color in Grand Rapids area businesses. 

The chamber recently announced the launch of its new Center for Economic Inclusion to help increase and support businesses owned by people of color. 

According to the chamber, less than 1% of Grand Rapids businesses bringing in $250,000 or more per year are owned by a person of color, and 98% of business revenue in Grand Rapids comes from white-owned businesses.

“We need — and intend — to make a dent in these numbers,” said Attah Obande, vice president of business and talent development at the chamber and leader of the new Center for Economic Inclusion. “The need to effectively address barriers to entrepreneurs of color is apparent and our goal is to play a significant part in meeting it.” 

To do this, the new center will address the barriers facing businesses by providing technical assistance, leadership development, employee skills training, actionable plans, access to attractive lending and strategies to connect with customers. 

“The Center for Economic Inclusion is a holistic approach addressing the lived experience of entrepreneurs of color,” Obande said. “It will connect entrepreneurs to already existing services within the ecosystem and provide opportunities through programs and services needed for a business scale.”

Center for Economic Inclusion services will include the following programs, among others:

  • Economic ecosystem navigators 
  • Technical assistance 
  • One-on-one coaching and consulting 
  • Programming for start-ups and growing businesses
  • Minority business enterprise certifications
  • CEO mentorship program
  • Employee/leadership development programming
  • Internal work (DEI) 

In year one, the program plans to do the following: 

  • Conduct one-on-one consultations with 150 businesses
  • Host 60 participants in development programs
  • Certify 100 businesses
  • Provide $500,000 in approved loan referrals

The Center for Economic Inclusions builds on and creates an umbrella structure for current chamber offerings to promote economic inclusion, such as West Michigan Minority Contractors Program, Mosaic Business Collective, Diversify Your Spend Business Showcase and Elevate.

“We are thrilled to announce the launch of the Center for Economic Inclusion to support a more dynamic economy,” said Rick Baker, president and CEO of the chamber. “Inclusive economic development is a core component of our work, because helping everyone prosper is a growth and competitiveness imperative. The center will take our work to the next level.”

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