BRADENTON -- Friday is the day to get in on the ground floor for the new chamber of commerce designed to help black entrepreneurs start businesses to serve Palmetto and Bradenton.
The president of the Manatee County Black Chamber of Commerce says the organization will bring a more diverse face to the area's business community. It will also help grow entrepreneurial employment and businesses needed in the black communities in the two cities.
"Our goal is to drive away poverty," said Tarnisha Cliatt.
Started as a successor to the Black Entrepreneurs Club Cliatt founded three years ago, the black chamber is looking to draw at least 20 members immediately. The organization is hosting hors d'oeuvres and cocktails at the Touch of Class Lounge on Friday night.
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It will offer a range of services to members, Cliatt said. Heavy emphasis will go into helping black entrepreneurs looking to start new businesses. Paid and volunteer staff will train chamber members to manage business plans, promote their businesses and seek out locations for shops and offices. The group also hopes to gain political clout
by setting legislative agendas and lobbying.
In particular, Cliatt said she is looking to promote minority business enterprises at the county level. She said more minority businesses need to be considered for government contract work.
"We want to make sure we are at the forefront at the table," she said. "We want to have contractors ready to take on projects."
The new chamber already has an understanding ear on the county board of commissioners. Recently elected Commissioner Charles Smith said he supports its mission. A member of a black family that has long been involved in business interests in the area -- including ownership of the Touch of Class -- Smith said the county needs a business organization that specifically promotes black-owned business.
"There's no reach-out to anyone that wants to start a business in the black community," Smith said. "We need an outlet with information things that target a community where no one wants to invest."
Push for entrepreneurship
Cliatt and Smith said building black businesses may help take down some barriers in the wider community. Black consumers are looking to patronize businesses owned by people who look like them, she said. Pushing entrepreneurship may also bring more employment to people who have served prison time.
"There are so many African Americans who are entrepreneurs in their heads," she said. "If you can't get a job, create a job."
Cliatt said many of the area's black communities are separated from commerce. To buy the goods and services they need, many must drive to relatively distant shopping areas.
One of the black chamber's goals is to bring more businesses within walking distance of predominantly black areas in Bradenton and Palmetto. Needed businesses include grocery stores, real estate offices, dry cleaners and offices for professionals including engineers.
The Manatee County Black Chamber of Commerce is affiliated with black chambers of commerce at the regional, state and national level. It is open to any businesses or individuals who wish to join.
The organization does not have an office and Cliatt said one goal is to establish one.
The county's largest chamber, the Manatee Chamber of Commerce, is aware of the black chamber's startup. Bob Bartz, chamber president, said his organization has experience working with smaller chambers built around specific interests or race.
He said the Manatee Chamber is open to all. "Hopefully there are no barriers to participation," he said.
The black chamber event begins at 7 p.m. Friday. Touch of Class Lounge at 5131 14th St. W.
Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027, or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.