Like other companies during the coronavirus pandemic, black-owned companies are having a hard time in Peoria.
Even before COVID-19, they had a hard time.
That is the lawsuit brought by Larry Ivory, President and CEO of the Illinois State Black Chamber of Commerce. He is currently the chairman of the National Black Chamber of Commerce.
Located in downtown Peoria, the State Chamber seeks to create sustainable opportunities and reduce economic disparities for businesses owned by minorities and women.
According to the chamber, there are more than 144,000 black-owned companies in Illinois. But Ivory estimates that less than 1% of Peoria businesses are owned and operated by African Americans.
In a recent interview, Ivory discussed black-owned local businesses, why local residents need to look out for them and how local governments and other agencies can support them.
The conversation has been edited for the sake of brevity and clarity.
Q: What is the current status of black entrepreneurship in Peoria?
A: To be completely honest, it’s pretty bleak. If you look at the pandemic, there are a number of companies that are just having problems. They are hanging by a thread. (But) before the pandemic, black businesses were in pretty bad shape.
In a city the size of Peoria, there is no African American company with more than 20 employees. In a city this size, with the number of African Americans, that’s virtually unknown. It tells you we have a serious problem. It’s pretty dark.
A: It’s because of neglect. It’s like not brushing your teeth for a long time. Now the consequences of not doing this are before you. It doesn’t look good, but it’s a reality.
You have to understand our story. I don’t think black companies found much support. People saw this as a real, legitimate threat to resources. At one time, Peoria was a thriving place for black businesses. There have been all kinds of TV repairs, plumbers, electricians, and a lot of things we’ve lost ground on.
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Q: Politically, what could local government or business development groups do to make it easier for black businesses to start?
A: I think it takes real leadership to have enough vision to understand that we have a serious problem that is related to the economy. We need to have access to participate.
You can’t have Michael Jordan, LeBron James and Larry Bird in your Champions game and they are all on the bench. They don’t knock on the chamber giving support so we can do the things that help the citizens of Peoria, black and white, across the board. Nobody has the ability to do what we do.
Local governments are the key factor. What we want to do is find the best companies that can come into our communities that can bring in talent, money and resources and hire locally and help grow the economy. This is the chamber. We need to make a community agreement that this is part of our strategy. It’s a simple fix, it can save lives and make Peoria more competitive.
The city council and the city tour can make a difference by saying, “We are committed to this.” If they don’t, it can’t happen.
We need to do capital access training and have black companies partner with other companies and help build capacity. If we do that, blacks will hire blacks, which will create wealth and make Peoria a more attractive destination for everyone. I think blacks want that, and I think whites want that.
(New President / CEO) Joshua Gunn of the Peoria Chamber of Commerce … I met him and was very impressed with his ability to see things from a different perspective. You have the right people to make a real change that is good for everyone down the line.
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Q: Why should local residents be careful to support minority companies?
A: I read an article by the President of Chase Bank that said racism cost the US over $ 16 trillion in a short period of time. What you sometimes have is business procurement and suppression when you don’t stand a chance to partake of a community’s economic prosperity.
If you have a business and that company has good products and services and they never get a contract unless they are able to access the opportunities, this company is not going to survive.
It is in our collective interests to reduce crime, improve education, and lower unemployment. When that happens, you have an economy that can support the police and other things. But when people leave our church, it doesn’t take an economist to understand that this is a recipe for disaster.
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