Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, II pointed out at the news conference, “According to a study conducted by the University of Missouri-Kansas City, only a fraction of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans over $150,000 from last summer went to businesses owned by Blacks, Hispanics, and women,” said Cleaver.



BY JOE ARCE AND COREY CRABLE

As the pandemic continues to shutter the doors of local merchants, small businesses in Kansas City will get a much-needed boost from U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II (D-MO) in the form of a new Tri-Chamber of Commerce. Cleaver announced the tri-chamber’s creation in a press conference on Oct. 19 in Kansas City. The chamber would be made up of minority-, women- and LGBT-owned businesses. The new grouping brings together the Heartland Black Chamber of Commerce, the LGBT Chamber of Commerce, and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Greater Kansas City.


Also notable is the signing of a contract between the three separate organizations themselves, for which it will receive $250,000 in CARES Act funding to local, small businesses that have been affected by the spread of COVID-19.


Cleaver added at the press conference that, according to a study conducted by the University of Missouri-Kansas City, only a fraction of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans over $150,000 from last summer went to businesses owned by Blacks, Hispanics, and women.


“Something is wrong with that,” Cleaver said. “We had the idea that if we could get money from the CARES Act for the establishment of a tri-chamber in our community … we could create an atmosphere where small and minority-owned businesses would be comfortable getting aid and assistance.”


Carlos Gomez, president and CEO of Kansas City’s Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said that’s especially important for business owners who are immigrants and need equal access to information and interpreting that information.


KC Hispanic News asked Gomez what the Hispanic Chamber would do for small businesses in trying to successfully apply for grant funds.


“We are calling on behalf of the members, setting up meetings,” Gomez said. “We’re doing a lot of hand holding, a lot of one-on-one. … We must know what resources are available, and this information is coming down very quickly. We help disseminate it and direct people to the right places.”


That communication, he said, is key for this partnership to work effectively.


“In immigrant communities, there is a misunderstanding of what this is and what it does,” said Gomez, who reminded business owners that the grants for which they would be eligible would not be loans. “We can do Zoom meetings in Spanish so (business owners can) understand what they’re saying ‘no’ to. We’ve had a lot of ones where businesses understood this was a grant, that it would be forgiven if the funds were used on utilities, payroll and rent. Education is the key, and we have to trust in our communities.”


Representatives from the three individual chambers expressed their excitement for the partnership.


“This is a result of relationship building,” said Jeff Harris, board president of the Midwest LGBT Chamber of Commerce. “Our organizations have worked together for years to help our diverse communities to work together.”


Kim Randolph, president and CEO of the Heartland Black Chamber of Commerce, said the new organization will benefit all of its members.


“This is an opportunity for us to collaborate,” Randolph said. “Where is the greatest representation of American diversity? The urban core. We know all three of our chambers have people of color in the urban core. What better way to serve each other than to do it together?”


Cleaver said that as negotiations continue between congressional Democrats and Republicans for the next stimulus package, he has been proactive in trying to advocate for his constituents.


“I have already begun to request that we set money aside for minority chambers all over the country (under the HEROES Act),” Cleaver said. “I was feeling really good about the CARES Act. But what the Treasury Department did was give that $10 million to national corporations. What we’re trying to go in the HEROES Act is get a substantial amount (for small businesses). Mayor (Quinton) Lucas told me they deserve three times that amount, and I agree.”


Gomez said that amount is desperately needed, and quickly – according to the Hispanic Chamber, nearly one third of Hispanic-owned businesses in Kansas City have permanently shut their doors since the pandemic began. He said it is the chamber’s goal that those remaining businesses are not met with the same fate.


“We are now able to help with services … and ensure Kansas City’s diverse businesses have the resources to help themselves rebuild,” he said. “We’re here to help the small mom-and-pops.”


Randolph thanked Cleaver for his efforts in making the Tri-Chamber a reality, and for granting it his support.


“His vision, his focus is why we are all here today,” she said. “We all have separate issues, but collectively, we all want our children and our corner stores to grow.”