Patrick Miles to head Grand Rapids Black Chamber of Commerce

September 2, 2011
| By Pete Daly |
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The new Grand Rapids Black Chamber of Commerce will be ¡°the leader and catalyst¡± for other new chambers set to open across Michigan as part of the U.S. Black Chamber of Commerce network, according to Ken Harris, head of the Michigan Black Chamber of Commerce in Detroit.

The new chambers will focus on promoting entrepreneurship among African-Americans and supporting the growth of black businesses. Access to capital, group insurance and contract procurement are among the MBCC¡¯s hot buttons.

The GRBCC, organized in July, was the first new chamber chartered by the Michigan Black Chamber of Commerce, which is affiliated with the U.S. Black Chamber of Commerce. The Michigan chamber plans to charter about 20 more; another is being formed now in Lansing.

At the unveiling here last week of the new GRBCC, Patrick A. Miles Jr. was introduced as its first president/CEO. Miles, 43, an attorney, was the first African-American partner at the Varnum law firm in Grand Rapids and is now a partner at the Grand Rapids office of Detroit law firm Dickinson Wright. He was also the Democratic candidate last year in the race for Michigan¡¯s 3rd Congressional District, which was won by Republican Justin Amash.

Miles noted that Grand Rapids is an entrepreneurial city with very successful and nationally known family-owned businesses, ¡°but we need to make sure that all segments of our society are doing that,¡± he said.

¡°This group is not looking for a handout (or) charity,¡± said Miles, and will collaborate with whoever is willing to help.

Harris said the African-American business community had ¡°not connected the dots effectively to economic development. That has changed.¡± Referring to Miles, he said the Grand Rapids business community now has ¡°a leader who wants all businesses to have their fair share.¡±

Membership in the GRBCC includes 34 black-owned businesses, including the Gillespie-Moody Funeral Home, the Grand Rapids Times publishing company and Larlen Communications.

T.A. El Amin, Donald Williams Sr. and Decarto Draper Sr. are local African-American community leaders who were instrumental in promoting the creation of the GRBCC.

At the public unveiling last week of the new chamber, which took place at the Press Club of Grand Rapids, Mayor George Heartwell said he was there ¡°to pledge the support of the city.¡±

Harris said the USBCC is founded on ¡°Five Pillars of Service¡± for its members: advocacy, access to capital, development of black chambers at the local level, entrepreneur training and helping members gain access to business opportunities. The USBCC is associated with almost 2 million African-American businesses.

¡°Having an organization that will advance the issues of the Grand Rapids black business community is an important component in fostering growth in African-American©\owned businesses in the Grand Rapids area and making this region economically stronger,¡± said Miles.

¡°The chartering of the Grand Rapids Black Chamber as Michigan¡¯s first black chamber speaks to the extreme desire for black©\owned businesses to have a voice in their local communities,¡± said Harris.

According to a news release issued by the GRBCC, it ¡°represents the first black business advocacy organization in Grand Rapids,¡± noting that African-Americans comprise nearly 22 percent of the city¡¯s population.

The GRBCC news release states that, according to 2007 U.S. Census figures, there are more than 72,000 African-American-owned businesses in the state of Michigan, and African-American consumers in the state have $8.3 billion in collective buying power. The census figures also show that black©\owned firms are growing at three times the national rate, and black©\owned companies that generate more than $1 million in annual revenue grew by an average of 19 percent ¡ª to $5.4 million ¡ª in 2007, according to the GRBCC.

¡°The Grand Rapids Black Chamber is the first step toward the Michigan Black Chamber¡¯s efforts to help revitalize the great state of Michigan,¡± said Ron Busby, president and CEO of the U.S. Black Chamber of Commerce.

Miles said the GRBCC will begin with a focus on communication of its mission, growth of its membership and services to its members, including increased access to capital and affordable group health insurance.

When asked, Miles said the reaction of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce to the new GRBCC is ¡°one of support.¡± He noted that there are a variety of chambers of commerce in the region in addition to the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, including the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and chambers in each of the smaller cities surrounding Grand Rapids.

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