Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Coalition Will Bridge the Gaps; Local Ethnic Chambers of Commerce Have Been Given a Donation - One Caveat, They Must Work Together

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Coalition Will Bridge the Gaps; Local Ethnic Chambers of Commerce Have Been Given a Donation - One Caveat, They Must Work Together

Article excerpt

Byline: ALISON TRINIDAD

The First Coast's various ethnic chambers of commerce have begun to work together -- finally -- to make sure business opportunities are color-blind.

They don't have a plan, a mission or even a name. But the joint effort, facilitated by a $25,000 grant from the National Football League, is the first since the individual chambers established themselves over the last 10 years.

During that time, the chambers have been focused on their individual issues and had only flirted with the possibilities of joining together. Now, they say, the time has come to build doors instead of walls.

Today, officials of the First Coast African American Chamber of Commerce, the First Coast Asian-American Chamber of Commerce, the First Coast Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Indo-US Chamber of Commerce of Northeast Florida will meet for the second time this summer with agents of the Jacksonville Regional Chamber of Commerce and the U.S. Small Business Administration. Agenda items include drafting a formal agreement to work together and setting forth a strategic plan.

Potential ideas include creating a consolidated calendar, hosting joint events and making individual resources available to the entire group.

The chambers are not merging, and each will retain their identities. But they hope cooperation will help leverage their resources, prevent duplication of services and encourage diversity in business across the region. It's an important step toward economic equity for minority groups on the First Coast, a region where racial disparities still are prevalent socially and economically, advocates say.

"We should have been working together, but we weren't," said Glenda Washington, senior director for economic inclusion at the Jacksonville Regional Chamber of Commerce. "The borders were self-inflicted borders ... But in Jacksonville, the landscape changes everyday. In order for us to be an effective community, we have no choice. We have to change."

By definition, chambers of commerce are supposed to enhance economic development, said Wilfredo Gonzalez, director of the SBA's North Florida district.

"Anytime you get people to work together, it's significant," Gonzalez said. "Each of these chambers has a particular way of reaching its community."

But the next step is to reach out to the larger community, Gonzalez says.

"Whereas they often took a parochial view, they now realize there's more to be gained from coalition building than from separate activity," he said. …

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