Since 2006, Bill Diggs has been president and CEO of the Miami-Dade Chamber of Commerce. Created in 1974 to foster development of minority-owned businesses, the chamber facilitates networking and skills building in areas such as business operations, grant applications, technology and marketing/branding. Among its committees are its Young Professionals Network and its Women’s Business Council. Upcoming programs include its annual Business Leaders Lunch, slated for March 22 (information at 305-751-8648).
Q. Tell us about the Miami-Dade Chamber of Commerce, the organization you run.
There are four people on staff. We have over 500 chamber businesses that we represent and our goal is to provide them with technical services that assists them in running their businesses more efficiently. We aspire for them to gain more contracts in the public and private business environment due to their being involved with our chamber.
We act as the main advocate for black businesses in South Florida. Over 75 percent of our member businesses are black owned. And virtually every major corporation in Miami is a member of our chamber with the idea that they can access the black business vendor community through their partnership with our chamber. We are Florida’s largest black chamber.
Q. What concerns are top of mind now for your members?
Their main concerns are access to capital and skills building. Many of them are veteran business owners that just need money and opportunities to compete in an open fair market. Many of our start-up businesses are struggling to keep the lights on. We are now marketing our services to start-up businesses and having good success.
Q. Do most of your members feel that the economy has improved? Or are they still struggling much as they were a two years ago?
The economy appears to be improving for many of our members. Things are coming back. The real issue is that the sensitivity toward assisting new black businesses has waned dramatically due to the reallocation of diversity personnel within major companies. Procurement specialists who knew the advantages of building sophisticated minority purchasing programs did not survive the economic downturn that has taken place.
Q. It seems like there are a lot of chambers of commerce in the region. Why does Miami-Dade need a separate chamber for minority businesses?
We are the only one that focuses on black businesses as a priority. In this community we are still an under-served business community.
Q. How are the services your organization offers differ from those offered by the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce?
Our services are specifically geared to the small and minority based businesses. So our training is built and delivered with a strong bent toward the cultural sensitivities that are prevalent in the Miami community. However, we consider our chamber to be a complementary organization to the GMCC.
Q. Unemployment among blacks is far higher than in the general population. Why is that, in your view, and what would improve that situation?
Racism and intolerance of differences still exists in America. In order for that to improve, radical change must take place in all segments of our community. It must change at the grass roots level of the procurement community. It must change and be implemented at the executive level if large black businesses are given the chance to grow. There is still red lining in the lending community so it s hard for black businesses to get money to grow their companies.