Op-Ed

Black business community must define itself

KNOWLES
KNOWLES

During the state of the county, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez spoke about being a “tech mayor;” he spoke about the eMerge Americas Conference. But it’s what wasn’t said that is the reason there is a need for a Miami-Dade Chamber of Commerce.

What was not mentioned was Black Tech Week, launched the very same week, by inspiring young black tech pioneers who are paving their own path each and every day. I will defend the mayor by saying that, possibly, he was not aware of Black Tech Week. If so, perhaps it is my fault for not pushing as hard as I could to inform the community about the event, but there has to be a Black Tech Week because there still remains a gap that must be bridged in order to pave the way for inclusiveness as we build this world-class community.

Some ask why there is a chamber of commerce that focuses on the black community; some ask: “Why do we have to keep reminding us that they are black?”

Because only 40 years ago, the black business community had to fight for recognition when it was not being recognized by the leading business organization, the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce; 40 years ago, it was not an inclusive organization. Today I applaud the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce and its president and CEO, Barry Johnson, as we work together, creating synergies that lift all businesses in Miami-Dade County.

Mayor Gimenez mentioned that the county unemployment rate is hovering around 6.7 percent, and in the true urban core — not the sexy new urban core — the unemployment rate shoots through the roof, standing above 20 percent. I commend the mayor for his new Employ Miami-Dade initiative, working with Associated Builders and Contractors, Rick Beasley and CareerSource South Florida, along with Leroy Jones, of Neighbors And Neighbors Association — NANA — to recruit, train and place residents to current jobs and those that will become available as the billions of dollars are being spent on construction projects.

The mayor also mentioned the Liberty Square project, which I think should be built by black general contractors. Liberty Square Rising should be the beginning of a true partnership with the county as it prepares its disparity study to tell us that blacks have not been treated fairly when it comes to securing county contracts.

If a young black child can see and talk to a contractor or to a surveyor or to someone who owns their business instead of the dope dealer or the rock slinger, then maybe there is hope. The goal should be to bring residents back to the neighborhood — and building a neighborhood.

That is why there is a Miami-Dade Chamber of Commerce: If we don’t say it, if we don’t fight for it, we will never get it. That is why our Business Leaders Luncheon has become a Symposium and Business Leaders Luncheon, which will be held Friday at the Hyatt Regency downtown Miami. R. Donahue Peebles, CEO of the Peebles Corporation, will give the keynote address.

We have to do more than recognize those who have supported us in the past year or celebrate those who are doing great things. We have to have a “come to Jesus” meeting with ourselves. We fight each and every day for opportunities. But are we ready for those opportunities, do we have the capacity? The symposium is designed to stimulate and create economic growth, to ascertain where the opportunities are and how we participate, creating our own economic foot print.

After the symposium, the chamber will engage the business community through a series of meetings throughout Miami-Dade County, working along with Florida Memorial University to create an inventory and an assessment of our capacity, answering the question: Who are we as a business community? We have to have a dialogue that addresses our concerns and find real solutions to our economic challenges among ourselves and with the community at large.

Working with the Beacon Council and its president, Larry Williams, we will take a deep dive, as I ask the question, what is the black community’s “One Community One Goal?” How does it line up with the Miami Dade County’s initiative? For instance, who in the black business community works with in aviation? Is there someone whose business sells fuel, sells tires, services aircraft? What is our capacity, and how do we participate in the economic boom? How many black millionaires are we creating?

Eric Knowles is president of the Miami-Dade Chamber of Commerce.

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