The Five Chamber Alliance, a group consisting of each borough’s Chamber of Commerce, held a conference at the Billie Holiday Theatre yesterday to commemorate successful minority and woman-owned businesses in New York City.
The first half of the event featured a panel discussion entitled “Centennial Talk: Borough of Diversity,” about what the city has done to support M/WBEs (Minority/Women-owned Business Enterprises) and the work that still needs to be done.
The second half saw the announcement of the winners of the third annual M/WBE Awards, a newly designated award for outstanding accomplishments by women and people of color in business. This marks the first time that the award ceremony was held in the borough of Brooklyn.
“Today, we usually do things a little differently with the Chamber,” said Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Andrew Hoan. “We celebrate Black History Month traditionally at Weeksville, and we celebrate Women’s Herstory Month with a panel discussion. This year, we said, let’s smash it all together, and let’s host this incredible event – which is a symbol of the Five Chamber Alliance and its strength – here in Brooklyn, on the year of our one hundredth birthday.”
The panel was moderated by NYC Department of Small Business Services Commissioner Gregg Bishop, and included Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte (D-Flatbush, Ditmas Park), businesswoman Penda Aiken, Assemblywoman Tremaine Wright (D-Bedford-Stuyvesant, Northern Crown Heights), and City Council Member Robert Cornegy Jr. (D-Bedford-Stuyvesant, Northern Crown Heights).
During the panel discussion, the electeds discussed the most pressing issues they’ll be facing this year as M/WBE advocates – most prominently, the fact that New York State’s M/WBE program, Article 15a, is set to expire in April.
Bichotte said that she intends to not just renew, but “re-authorize” and improve the program. Among other things, the new program will include a workforce program that will ensure that contractors hire a significant number of minority and female workers.
“There are a few things that we’re trying to push,” said Bichotte. “We are trying to make sure that the program is more robust, in terms of lifting some of the barriers.”
Bichotte also talked about “the cap”, a restriction on the M/WBE program that disqualifies businesspeople form the program if their net worth is at least $3.5 million. Bichotte said that this restriction unfairly penalizes businesspeople who inherit large estates from their parents and grandparents, and that the cap should instead be based on how much money the government has been awarding them over a set period of time.
“Let’s say you lived [in Bed-Stuy] all your life, and you inherited a couple of brownstones from your parents,” said Bichotte. “Guess what? Your personal net worth is gonna exceed 3.5 million. So that is gonna dictate whether you should be in the program. Does that make sense?”
The business certification process was another frequently addressed topic. The electeds stressed the need to make the process as simple and intuitive as possible for new business owners. Cornegy, who chaired the Council’s Committee on Small Businesses in his first term at the council, credited Commissioner Bishop for his efforts to streamline the process.
“When I took over as the chair, we had a lot of conversations, you and I, about streamlining the application process,” Cornegy told Bishop. “Because it was a little convoluted, so I want to credit your office for coming up with a way to streamline and turn around the certification much quicker.”
Wright brought up the need to reach out to minority and woman-owned micro businesses, who Wright claimed are underrepresented in the Chambers’ membership.
“I had a conversation with the Brooklyn Chamber about three or four years ago, about what their membership makeup looked like,” said Wright. “It did not have a lot of micro businesses in this neighborhood as members… if you guys begin to speak with them a little bit sooner, they’ll be able to transition from ‘micro’ to just ‘small’ a lot sooner.”
After the panel discussion, the M/WBE awards were presented by the five presidents of each borough’s Chambers of Commerce: Andrew Hoan of Brooklyn, Thomas Grech of Queens, Jessica Walker of Manhattan, Nunzio del Greco of the Bronx, and Linda Baran of Staten Island. Among the winners announced were Nancy Vargas, CEO of DH2 Chauffeured Transportation; Cheryl Gentry, founder of Glow Global Events; and Ramakrishna Cherukuri, founder of New York Fragrance.
This talk is the beginning of a series planned for 2018, to honor the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce’s 100th year in existence. The second talk, about the contributions of immigrants, will take place on April 24.