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West Des Moines Business Summit Empowers Minority-Owned Companies

Adeolu Eletu
The Black and Brown Business Summit will allow for small, minority-owned businesses to collaborate and network. "I've always been an advocate that 50 percent of an opportunity is better than 100 percent of not having that opportunity. So I think that it's important that the community start to galvanize that way and talk about these strategic collaborations," George Herrera, keynote speaker, said.

The West Des Moines Chamber of Commerce will host its first-ever Black and Brown Business Summit this week.

The goal of the Black and Brown Business Summit is to “advance the minority business community across the country.” Organizers thought Iowa would be the best place to start the national conversation about how to ensure Black and Brown-owned companies flourish in the business world.

George Herrera, an entrepreneur and former CEO of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, will be one of the keynote speakers at the event on Friday.

“It's important that we continue to have these types of comprehensive dialogues to see how we can really, really, really start to elevate and empower the minority business community economically," Herrera said. "I'm glad we're making headway politically. In some cities, we still have a long way to go.”

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, there are almost two times as many non-minority self-employed people in the state than self-employed people who are an ethnic minority. In the past, Iowa has ranked as one of the worst states for minority-owned businesses.

Herrera, originally from Brooklyn, New York, said he is used to a melting pot community, and that he is looking forward to Iowa becoming a place for all businesses to grow.

“We need to be proactive, and we don't need to have unfortunate incidents take place, for our community, to them be a topic of conversation, we should always be a topic of conversation, because we're part of the economic fabric of every community of every city in this country.”

More than 100 people have signed up to attend the business summit, although most are attending online. The event is capped at a 60 for the in-person summit. The summit will start with a pitch competition on Thursday, and keynote speakers eight-year National Football League veteran Brandon Copeland and Herrera.

"I think that it's time to start having a national dialogue of possibly getting the Black and Brown communities together, and developing a national blueprint for economic development," Herrera explained. "One that embraces the many resources that our community has, but also one that calls in corporate America, and tells corporate America: for way too long, we've let you drive the agenda without community. And we have tremendous amount of purchasing power. And I think it's time that we sit at the table and start to collaborate."

Herrera referred to Iowa's distribution of the Paycheck Protection Program, where Latino-owned businesses only received around 7 percent of the first round of funds. He said the summit should help many minority-owned businesses understand their options and where to find opportunities in a sector that sometimes plays against them.

"Hopefully these kind of opportunities will allow for more networking, allow them to understand that it is important to have these types of relationships in place," Herrera said.

The organizers hope to make this an annual event.