Black chamber links belonging, business building

PALMETTO -- Sherod Halliburton wasn't pulling any punches Thursday night at Kevin's Crab Shack.

Halliburton, president of Manatee Community Federal Credit Union, was at the seafood and soul food restaurant to deliver a hard-nosed lesson in business financing. About 50 members and prospective members of the new Manatee County Black Chamber of Commerce took it in, laughing, groaning and nodding as he explained the ins and outs of business credit.

Halliburton wasn't shy about promoting his business, noting his is a "financial institution run by somebody who looks like you." The black entrepreneur encouraged his audience to borrow money, establish credit and build their businesses.

He also cautioned new business owners with poor credit don't necessarily get the same access to money.

"We live in America. What does 'fair' have to do with anything?" Halliburton said. "It's not about money. It's about access to money."

The talk was part of an entire evening dedicated to the fundamentals of doing business as a black entrepreneur. Just 2 months old, the chamber used the event for new and existing business people by bringing in a microfinance expert from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, bankers and a vice president of the National Black Chamber of Commerce.

So far, the chamber has attracted about 35 members from a wide range of businesses.

They include a physical and occupational therapy clinic, a chiropractor, day care providers, event planners, consultants and real estate agents. President Tarnisha Cliatt, said entrepreneurial enterprise is the best way to secure employment in the black community.

"We're creating black jobs through black business," Cliatt said.

As one of the first major chamber events, the evening was also intended to build momentum and membership.

Charles DeBow III, vice president for programs for the 140-chapter National Black Chamber of Commerce, said the local group caught the bigger organization's attention.

"We're excited to see the community empower themselves to increase the capacity of existing businesses and to create new business," DeBow said.

Building a feeling of belonging keyed the event's draw. While is open to business people of all races -- Manatee County School Board member Charles Kennedy is white and a chamber member -- attendees said being part of a group dedicated to black enterprise is a confidence booster.

"It's people who look like them and who have the same issues in business," said Susie Copeland, president of the Manatee County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Cornelle Maxfield, president of the Sarasota-Manatee Black Democratic Caucus, said business growth in the black community can contribute to an overall better quality of life.

"If we have strong businesses, we have engaged people," Maxfield said.

Ultimately, the evening struck a chord of optimism. Dovetailing into what Halliburton had to say, Garry Thomas, an official with the state microfinance program, encouraged small business owners to apply for a program using state guarantees to boost credit ratings for applicants by up to 50 percent.

That, he said, is what it takes to convince banks to loan money to new and small businesses.

"They'll do that all day, every day," Thomas said.

The black chamber holds its networking socials the third Thursday of every month. It rotates events between black-owned business volunteers.

For more information, call 941-527-6010.

Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027, or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.