Black Chamber expands vision

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ALTON – The Alton Area Black Chamber of Commerce, the Alton Chapter of the Illinois Black Chamber of Commerce, is poised to expand its mission and vision, and refine its purpose to support and help black-owned businesses, whether they are official members or just part of metropolitan St. Louis communities, Alton’s speaker of the chamber said.

The Alton Area Black Chamber of Commerce was established in late 2018 and is led by chamber president William Christopher Harris, pastor of Brown’s Faith Temple Church of God in Christ, 2603 Main St., Alton. The group is set up for membership in categories such as sole proprietor, limited liability company, incorporation, business, collegiate and so on.


“We formed the Alton Chapter just before the pandemic hit and we haven’t been as active,” Harris said. “But one of the things we’re going to do locally is focus on a different path to hopefully identify African-American and Black-owned businesses.”

“There are several new companies recently since the start of the pandemic and we haven’t had a chance to make many public appearances for existing companies,” he said. “And we want to identify Black-owned businesses, whether or not they are members of the chamber. We want to know that you are there and helping this business when it needs support and resources.

The group offers resources, advocacy, awareness, and networking to all minorities, especially African American entrepreneurs and small business owners, but also women, Hispanics, and other minorities. The Alton Chapter is one of nine chapters of the Decatur-based Illinois Black Chamber of Commerce, led by its founder and organization’s state chairman, Decatur native Anthony “Corey” Walker. .

Harris works full-time as a corporate mechanical engineer for Zoltek, a carbon fiber manufacturer in St. Louis. The Carbondale native and Southern Illinois University-Carbondale graduate moved to Alton 14 years ago where he lives with his family.

The Alton chapter started with a handful of members. The Illinois Black Chamber of Commerce’s state office is in Bloomington, with satellite offices in Chicago and Decatur.

“Our mission is to support Black businesses and entrepreneurs, businesses and commerce, here in the region,” Harris said. “But not just as a call for greater need in one sector, but extending to all minorities in the region to better help them to take advantage of what they bring in business, commerce and the administration of the small enterprises. That’s how we see it: anyone who’s underrepresented, especially African Americans.

The Alton Chapter will offer several different incentives for small businesses and entrepreneurs to develop their business plan, ranging from obtaining financial resources for financing to alternative financing to help businesses become certified as Black Business Enterprise (BBE) or Women’s Business Enterprise (WBE). Contracts are available for BBE and WBE certification holders, whether local or federal, within the state for small business owners, especially for African Americans.

“A substantial allocation of funds is available for BBE and WBE,” Harris said. “We want to facilitate and close that gap to help small business owners grow, grow, and scale up and into business and enterprise.”

The Alton Chapter will also act as an advocate on behalf of minority-owned businesses.

“We will look at what our community needs that doesn’t exist, not just for funding, but through policy, legislation,” Harris explained.

The Alton Chapter will also host blenders where business owners can network.

“We’ve been to a lot of them, an opportunity to network in an after five setting, with business owners and not just the owners, but also other people, like someone from the working class who can come, connect and partner with these companies,” Harris said.

“We want to bring that here, so that we can again really, not just do something here in Alton, but something in our area here, including East Alton, Wood River, Granite City, Edwardsville, Grafton, Bethalto, all towns and cities in the region to be a blended family here, as well as in the counties, the Metro East,” Harris said.

Harris’ personal mantra is: “Empower to have an impact”.

“That’s what I feel like I’m here for, is to empower others,” he said. “After empowering, help others have an impact.”

The Alton Chapter is currently housed in Harris Church. He and his wife, Jocelyn, are also entrepreneurs who operate a seasonal shaved ice business at 2500 Locust Ave. in Alton.

Email [email protected] for more information about the Alton Area Black Chamber of Commerce. For more information about the Illinois Black Chamber of Commerce, visit www.bcciinc.org or email [email protected]

Other organizations that help black-owned businesses include Ourblex at www.ourblex.com and STL Black Biz at www.stlblackbiz.com.

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