Greater Akron Chamber working to advance economic inclusion
Last week, the Greater Akron Chamber, like many other companies and organizations, published a statement on economic inclusion. While we know it is important to tell the community where we stand as an organization, we believe it is even more important to show action on issues within the reach of the business community to advance economic inclusion and shared prosperity.
Since late 2018, the Chamber has been actively working on increasing our focus on economic inclusion. With our Elevate Greater Akron Partners (EGA), we released findings on the economic exclusion that has impacted Greater Akron’s inability to drive shared prosperity. In early 2019, we convened a board-led Equity and Inclusion standing committee that has more than 40 companies engaged and in March of last year elected a number of new board members to drive diversity of perspective at our leadership table. A year ago, we hired our first VP for opportunity and inclusion, Robert DeJournett, to lead our work at the Chamber and the EGA initiatives with the city of Akron and Summit County. In September 2019, EGA held the first Greater Akron Economic Inclusion Summit to challenge our companies and our community to understand the impact of economic exclusion of the Black community and to take actions to more aggressively address inclusion in their companies. Also, in October, the Women’s Network Leadership Institute became part of the Greater Akron Chamber — maintaining its focus on the success of women as professionals, managers and business owners while working more closely with the corporate community.
We launched a series of initiatives following the Economic Inclusion Summit and driven by the input we received. Again, with our partners in the Elevate Greater Akron initiative at the city of Akron and Summit County, we are poised to launch a new platform this month to help companies and organizations identify and do business with Black-, minority- and female-owned businesses.
Partnering with the Greater Cleveland Partnership, we are closing the first annual opportunity for Greater Akron companies to assess their own performance on inclusive hiring, leadership, procurement and other practices on June 30. We expect more than 30 of our largest companies in Greater Akron to participate in the process to benchmark their own performance and opportunity areas to create a starting point from which to improve.
We have convened an active group of our companies’ internal inclusion leaders to improve their ability to share best practices and work together to improve their individual and collective company efforts.
We are working closely with ConxusNEO to initiate and support the RAISE initiative in our neighborhoods to connect unemployed and underemployed people with next level job opportunities with an intentional focus on including our Black population.
We also launched business owner peer roundtables this month with an explicit focus on inclusive groups of owners. These roundtables are facilitated by an inclusive group of staff, partners in the EGA initiatives from Bounce and the Urban League and several business owners that were trained earlier this year to drive these discussions.
And, we are being more conscious about intentional effort to engage Black, female, minority and disadvantaged business owners. Our recent work on Summit County’s COVID-19 Small Business Relief Grant program solicited more than 1,180 grant applications from disadvantaged businesses. Ninety-four percent of Black-owned businesses that were eligible for funding received grants.
We received feedback that many of the smallest businesses in Greater Akron felt the Chamber was not as accessible as it could or should be. We have responded by launching a new membership level, priced at $175, for first-year members. Doing so gives our smallest companies the chance to experience the benefits they can get from the organization and increase access while still supporting the cost incurred of our work.
Initiative by initiative we will continue to take steps.
While we are overwhelmed by the gaps we find in efforts to be inclusive in the day-today work of our businesses, we are optimistic about the increasing attention, participation and sincere desire from our businesses to be at the table for this conversation and help us to shape practical, effective approaches that they can implement to drive results.
We understand that it’s not what we say that matters — it’s what we do. We are committed to continuing to drive our companies to do more to be inclusive. It’s not only the right thing to do, but it also matters significantly to the shared prosperity of our businesses and the people in our region. The engagement of all our region’s companies is critical to our work, and we welcome your involvement and partnership in that effort. Connect with us at inclusion@greaterakronchamber. org.
Marc Merklin is a partner at Brouse McDowell and chairman of the Greater Akron Chamber. Grace Wakulchik is president and CEO of Akron Children’s Hospital and first vice chair of the Greater Akron Chamber. Andre Thornton is president and CEO of ASW Global, and Nick Browning is Akron region president of Huntington Bank. Thornton and Browning co-chair the Greater Akron Chamber’s Equity and Inclusion Committee which leads the Chamber’s work on economic inclusion.
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Greater Akron Chamber. (2020, Jun 20) Greater Akron Chamber working to advance economic inclusion. Akron Beacon Journal/Ohio.com. Retrieved from https://www.beaconjournal.com/business/20200401/revamped-websites-help-connect-job-seekers-akron-area-employers-amid-coronavirus