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Partnering with Wisconsin’s Diverse Small Businesses

Empowering underrepresented communities, expanding our economy

By Hannah Flanders

Bankers are always focused on their mission of serving their communities, and lending to local businesses is at the heart of that mission. As more small businesses are looking to start or expand, access to capital remains a challenge, and disproportionately so for firms owned by people of color, according to the Small Business Credit Survey conducted by all 12 Federal Reserve Banks. Partnering with community-based organizations such as chambers of commerce allows both banks and the organization to assist historically underrepresented individuals to gain access to the credit they need.

Diverse Chambers and Community-based Organizations in Wisconsin

In Wisconsin, there are 20 chambers of commerce and community-based organizations with a specific mission of supporting underrepresented individuals that WBA is familiar with. While our state boasts many other chamber models representing specific cities and regions, demographically focused chambers are established with the purpose of representing a specific group of business owners.

Of these chambers, many underrepresented groups — including veterans, people of color, and women — have the ability to access local networks of fellow underrepresented business owners, and can acquire resources and opportunities to gain knowledge from other professionals.

Ruben Hopkins, chairman and CEO of the Wisconsin Black Chamber of Commerce, works to help prepare Black business owners in Milwaukee to take out small business loans. “Money’s in the paperwork,” Hopkins states. “Our organization works to establish a more aware business owner and save bankers time. When my business owners walk into the bank, you know they’re prepared with whatever is necessary [to complete the application].”

How Your Bank Can Get Involved

Over the last several years, Wisconsin bankers have become even more intentional in hiring employees who represent their local communities so customers “seem themselves” when they enter the bank. This certainly helps foster connections with the bank from these represented groups.

Another way banks are developing relationships with historically underrepresented businesses is by becoming involved with specific ethnic or community-based chambers and organizations.

As bankers already know, one of the easiest ways to become involved is to become a member or sponsor a chamber event. This effort alone highlights to community members the care and support bankers have for local businesses. According to a study conducted by The Schapiro Group, consumers are 19% more likely to think favorably of a company that is involved with its local chamber.

From galas to art fairs, summits, and workshops — the are many opportunities for banks to assist and support ethnic chambers and other community-based organizations in their mission to help marginalized small business owners reach new heights.

For the Wisconsin Black Chamber of Commerce, the 3,000 Black Business Challenge is a boot-camp program that sets Black business owners up for success. The program features education on a wide range of topics including financial literacy, business accounting, and funding.

Not only does the 3,000 Black Business Challenge boot-camp offer a great opportunity for Black business owners to hone a diverse range of financial skills, but bankers who volunteer as partners will also play a significant and memorable role in the growth of these businesses.

Additional ways of getting involved include serving on an organization’s Board, contributing to loan funds, or making an increased effort to work with business owners who are members of the partner organization.

Benefits for Banks and Communities Alike

For banks looking to increase their Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) performance or become involved in new ways within their community, partnering with community-based organizations offers various opportunities to achieve those goals while assisting underrepresented small business owners.

According to the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE), historical circumstances, population fluctuations, differing ambitions, and the needs of employers have all played a role in the formation of different chambers. Chambers today remain effective for representing business in a certain location or those focused on a certain demographic.

Partnering with a local chamber of commerce that serves underrepresented business owners is an excellent opportunity for bankers to assist entrepreneurs in the expansion of their businesses and support the growth of the local economy, all the while establishing the bank as a trusted partner for diverse members of the community.

In addition, banks may find that working with local chambers will offer them opportunities to reach new talent. Many local chambers offer members the opportunity to post recruitment ads on
their websites, offering an additional avenue for talent recruitment that may reach a new population of individuals.

In developing a connection with an ethnic chamber or other community-based organization, banks are able to widely support the growth of marginalized small businesses in the communities in which they serve. This commitment to Wisconsin’s underrepresented entrepreneurs will provide not only an opportunity for banks to reach into historically underserved communities but offer creative ways in which to support diverse local businesses and the growth local economies.