When it comes to picking up an instrument, no one bats at an eye at the notion that blacks excel at jazz. It’s accepted as gospel.
But when it comes to running a successful business, the opposite stereotype often applies.
Yet the late Lumon Ross embraced both avenues as paths to black success, even if one remains much more of an uphill climb than the other.
The ongoing challenge of developing a vibrant African-American business class here is why the Black Chamber of Commerce of Western New York is eyeing a new tool: a resource center to help black businesses compete.
It would be financed through the Lumon Ross Entrepreneurial Development Fund, named for the Chamber’s founding president, who died in January. Combining two of his passions, the organization is holding a jazz-themed fundraiser at 7 p.m. June 27 in the African-American Cultural Center as a small step toward such a center.
The goal is to have a place to hold workshops and familiarize entrepreneurs with 21st century technology.
“A different kind of marketing has begun that extends your geographic ability to provide services to remote customers,” said Chamber President Richard C. Cummings, noting that firms focused on daily survival may not stay abreast of social media and other helpful technology. “In some cases, they’re not up to speed in terms of awareness of how things can be done.”
That challenge comes on top of the traditional obstacles of bonding, financing and certification that have long bedeviled black entrepreneurs here. The resource center would educate businesspeople on all of that.
The Chamber already holds workshops at the Frank E. Merriweather Jr. Library. But having its own center would provide more flexibility in terms of hours, equipment demonstrations and, not least, being able to offer food because “sometimes you need that in order to attract people.” Cummings, who incorporated his family-run American Rated Cable & Communications in 1992, acknowledges that getting some black entrepreneurs to see the necessity of educating themselves “is a part of our challenge.”
Keeping with the Chamber’s tradition of playing things close to the vest, he won’t say much about a potential site, timetable or budget. He does acknowledge that fundraisers such as this one are only a small part of a strategy that also will include seeking foundation support.
But with a developing waterfront and Medical Campus offering myriad business opportunities, it becomes imperative to prepare blacks so that they don’t end up on the sidelines.
The number of black businesses nationally grew by 60 percent between 2002 and 2007, triple the overall rate, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, but it was hard to see evidence of that here. The 2008 recession no doubt took a toll on fledgling companies, and the bureau is conducting a new survey now.
But you don’t need stats to know that Buffalo’s East Side never saw such growth, even when the nation did. That makes supporting the Chamber’s effort everybody’s business because of one simple truth: Its members are the firms that, while reaching for a broader market, will continue to hire from and service the neighborhoods they are in.