Formed in 1993, the African-American Chamber of Commerce of PA, NJ, and DE (AACC) is a membership organization that serves businesses in the public, private, and independent sector that are committed to supporting the economic empowerment and growth of African American businesses located in Southeastern Pennsylvania, Southern New Jersey and Northern Delaware. It’s primary goal is to further the interests of businesses by responding to the needs of the business community and serving as an advocate for the purpose of increasing economic opportunities for the African American community.
Overtime, the AACC has forged partnerships which have been transformational to the way the organization has been able to support its members, especially during this unprecedented time. Some of these partnerships include Philadelphia 76ers, The Ethnic Chambers, The Enterprise Center, PAGE Initiative with The Economy League, Philadelphia Commerce Department, and PIDC. Additional partnerships and programs are forthcoming, including the launch of a Coaching to Capital program which helps businesses become bankable and connects them to consultants to decide how to leverage capital for sustainable growth.
Still, more endeavors are on the horizon as the AACC implements recovery strategies for African American-owned businesses. To help with their initiatives, this January, the organization added a new team member after the July 2020 resignation of former AACC president Donavan West. Following an extensive search, Regina A. Hairston was chosen by the AACC Board of Directors as the organization’s new president and CEO. Regina has over 20 years of senior management experience, including strategic fundraising and partnership development. This experience is a major addition to her new role in which she hopes to use to make an effect on a wider scale. Check out our interview with Regina as she discusses her transition into her new role, resources to help Black-owned businesses thrive, and the future outlook on endeavors of the AACC.
Q: How is your new role going? Any new plans or initiatives you’d like to share?
A: The new role is going well! I embarked upon a listening tour during my first month in office and that has informed my focus for the upcoming months. We designed new programming as a result of the listening tour: Reimagine Reset & Reinvest for a Sustainable Future. This programming is designed to Engage, Enlighten, & Empower Black Businesses. The goal is to provide access to information, opportunity, and new business.
Q: PIDC works to drive growth to every corner of Philadelphia through our business financing, technical assistance, business network, and real estate opportunities. We have begun partnering with more organizations to further implement these efforts, especially for underserved business communities, including women, minority, and immigrant businesses. How can partnerships with organizations such as PIDC further support AACC?
A: Support from organizations like PIDC is crucially important to the success of the AACC, and the African American owned businesses that comprise it. PIDC’s partnership ensures that there is institutional support and backing from a diverse array of professionals looking to support these businesses in the areas that they need it the most. Though all of the areas you listed are vital to African American businesses’ long-term success, financing and technical assistance provide the much-needed foundation of any business. Having access to these resources will open the door to future opportunities, and building those resources and relationships is the key to the future.
Q: What are some of the unique challenges that Black-owned businesses face, and what can be done to support Black-owned businesses while navigating these challenges?
A: African American owned businesses face challenges in each phase of business development. Early in the process of starting a business, African American owned businesses face challenges in the upstart because they may lack the personal and professional business network to support them. Accessing capital and investment is a major hurdle, but starting a business is difficult for just about anyone.
Once you add in longstanding inequities and lack of investment in our communities, you take a difficult task and make it more challenging. For example, navigating the financial or governmental applications for loan programs are time-consuming and can be confusing without access to expertise to ask questions. Where do you find capital? Which tax structure is right for you? If you’re going to apply for a major program like the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), how do you do so without a long-standing tie to a major financial institution? How do you stay compliant? African American owned businesses are typically not started by the independently wealthy or backed by huge funds. They are started by individuals living in historically underserved communities. Without a wealth of resources to pull from, African American entrepreneurs are starting at a structural and institutional disadvantage.
To support African American owned businesses, we must expand access to business expertise and resources across the board. Organizations like the African-American Chamber of Commerce help businesses navigate these challenges and provide structural support to business owners who may need advice sourcing capital, staying compliant, or mastering the day-to-day of running a successful business. We have a wealth of talent in the region. We have experts in everything; if we increase access to those doors and relationships that typical corporate America has at its fingertips, we can take a much more equitable approach to solve long-standing challenges.
Q: What resources does AACC provide to help business owners?
A: We provide information to grants and resources by our partners. We have formal partnerships with programs that provide minority business certification, capacity building, and access to affordable capital. Through our partners and our platform, we provide access to marketing and media. Once businesses become members, our director of membership and programming works with each business to create a plan to access their business and determine which resources are better suited for them.
Q: What is your advice for business owners who are trying to keep their business afloat during COVID-19 and civil unrest?
A: During COVID-19, African American owned businesses had the additional challenge of forging relationships with institutions like government and banking institutions to garner relief loans. In fact, here in Philadelphia, minority owned businesses were in the back of the line for PPP loans because of a historically disconnected relationship between African American owned businesses and lending institutions. Similarly, with the civil unrest that took place in the summer, many businesses found themselves looking for help by way of grants from institutions. My advice to those businesses is to use your voice and involvement with organizations like the AACC to prepare for uncertain times. Let’s figure out what you need to insulate your business from fallout and advocate for real policy change and investment that directly benefits our African American business community.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like us to know?
A: I am really excited to have the opportunity to drive impact for Black-owned businesses in the region. When our Black-owned businesses do well, our communities thrive.
Members of the African-American Chamber of Commerce (AACC) become part of an extensive network of corporations and businesses, and are able to engage with policy-makers and business leaders across the region. In addition to exposure to valuable marketing opportunities, members participate in programming that enables them to build a powerful network that helps their businesses grow.