NAMPA — Kathryn Jones, a Nampa business owner, said there is no Treasure Valley organization where African American business owners can professionally meet and organize. That’s why Jones this month is launching a new chamber of commerce that seeks to bring together Black business owners, not only in the Treasure Valley but across the state.
Jones, 39, owns Shaved Head Productions, a project management company, and is the founder and president of the African American Chamber of Commerce, a new chamber that is not affiliated with any larger organization.
Jones said she started the organization for two reasons. First, Black business owners in Idaho need a professional business resource. Second, Jones said she was angered by the “situation” of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, two African American men, whose deaths, perpetrated by white men, have sparked nationwide protests against racial injustice.
“I was really, really angry, but I didn’t really have anywhere to focus that anger,” Jones told the Idaho Press in a phone interview. “The Treasure Valley didn’t really have a place for African Americans to meet professionally, so I thought this was a great opportunity to launch the chamber, that way we have somewhere to share our voices. And it gave me somewhere to focus my anger and be productive and help in the Treasure Valley.”
The new chamber may have been jump-started, in part, by recent events, but its founder has long-term aspirations
“Right now, it’s trendy to support Black-owned businesses, and it’s trendy to support Black people,” Jones said. “But what the chamber wants to do is affect what you’re doing day to day to support the Black businesses in your area. That’s one of the things I think we’ll see happening is people daily supporting Black-owned businesses versus supporting them when it’s trendy.”
Like other chambers, the African American Chamber of Commerce will help business owners find training opportunities, secure grant funding, apply for Small Business Administration loans and advocate for legislation at the Statehouse. But the African American chamber will provide resources to meet the individual needs of Black business owners, Jones said.
“African Americans in the Treasure Valley … there’s no organizations that focus on their needs specifically,” she said. “Because of that I wanted to make sure that they have a place to go, to get resources, to go to get information. We help connect people with other organizations, other Black-owned businesses or other businesses in general that can help them get their business to the next level, whatever that is.”
For Brenda Hambrick, a 53-year-old from Boise, the chamber could elevate the status of her two businesses as well as increase business development and economic growth within the African American business community and the area’s business community as a whole.
“Currently, the only way you put your business out there is by social media, website, word of mouth,” said Hambrick, who owns B&B Soul Food, a pop-up food vendor, usually located at the Chow Public Market and Eatery, and Lumper’s Moving Service, a moving and cleaning company.
“I would love to know that my business is being reflected with the chamber,” Hambrick said. “I just feel like it says it’s more professional, and that we have a goal. We’re not just out here as a ‘pop in, make some money, and then you’re gone’ type of place. I want my business to be structured right here, to show that it has grown and that you can do it. So many people go in business and then they go right back out because they don’t know what to do or they don’t have the help of some type of organization or someone that’s willing them to give them the opportunity or the resources or the tools to make it successful.”
Hambrick said Black business owners in the area are excited about the new chamber, and she knows several local business owners that plan to join. Hambrick decided to join when she saw Jones posting about the African American Chamber of Commerce on Facebook.
“I thought, ‘You know what, I want to be a part of that,’” Hambrick said. “’I want to help whatever will help grow our community, educate our community, bring us together as a whole’ — that’s what caught my eye about it, especially with the things that are going on in the world. I just wanted to see what I could do to help while I’m still here.”
The African American Chamber of Commerce will begin accepting members Aug. 1.
Chamber staff includes a vice president, Gabrielle Davis, and director, Shari Baber, as well as a board of directors. Jones said chamber leaders haven’t decided where the chamber office will be located. Board members live across the state, from Coeur d’Alene to Twin Falls, and leaders don’t want membership to be exclusively Treasure Valley businesses, Jones said.
According to data from the Small Business Administration, in 2012 there were 571 small businesses in Idaho owned by African Americans.
Jones expects many businesses will engage with the chamber, but she anticipates membership will grow slowly while the organization builds trust within the African American community.
“I think it’s something that the community has been waiting for for a long time,” she said. “I do think that the growth will be slow because in the Treasure Valley, when it comes to organizing African Americans — a lot of times there are a lot of promises and no actions. I know that they’ll be wary about what is going to happen with the chamber, what the chamber is going to do. There are going to be times where we have to do a lot of things … showing that we’re here to do it before people, especially African Americans, really invest in what the chamber can do.”
While the new chamber prepares to launch, Jones said she is meeting with other organizations and chambers of commerce so that future members can benefit from community partnerships. Jones hopes the community understands that “you don’t necessarily need to be African American to work with the African American Chamber of Commerce,” she said.
The chamber will accept non-Black business owners as members, Jones said.
“I think it’s important because allyship in the Treasure Valley is what sustains any business,” she said. “You have to build your business on those community partnerships. Making sure that those are the primary resources for the members of the chamber is very important.”
Once the nonprofit is up-and-running with 501©(6) status, it will rely on grant funding and membership dues. In the meantime, the chamber is accepting donations at aaccofidaho.com/support-us.
The African American Chamber of Commerce will host a virtual ribbon-cutting ceremony on July 13. To register for the event, visit aaccofidaho.com/events.