Growing a small business is never a small endeavor. To that end, entrepreneurs often find that there is strength in numbers, which is why so many elect to join a local chamber of commerce. Houston, the nation’s second most diverse urban community, also boasts the second oldest African American Chamber of Commerce in the country.
Eric Lyons, the president and CEO of the Houston Citizens Chamber of Commerce, explains that the organization’s mission is to identify and develop business opportunities for African American entrepreneurs, business professionals and major black corporations and provide them with resources to educate, equip and facilitate growth and prosperity of their businesses. Rolling out spoke with Lyons, a seasoned professional and the former president of the local chapter of the National Association of Black MBAs, to discuss the organization’s progress. –roz edward
What are the benefits of being a member of the Houston Citizens Chamber of Commerce? Our focus is on three things — advocacy, awareness and access. We connect people to business leads, business referrals and ensure that they have a seat at the table … whether it’s Fortune 500 firms or state and city agencies. We also foster an environment where our members can network with other chamber members so that they can be a supplier vendor to another business. We have a partnership with the Port of Houston Authority and it focuses on how our members can do business with the Port of Houston. We also have those same type of relationships with other stakeholders, like our banking partners.
Is this a good time for African Americans to be in business?
Houston is one of the top 10 cities in which blacks have started businesses. We believe even more people have started businesses since that data was released [in 2007]. … People have started businesses to supplement their current income or they may have been displaced in the market place. I advocate that it is much better to own your pie, than to be a part of a pie. … One recent business that has become a member of the Chamber is a gentleman with a mobile shoe shine business. Men, and a lot of women want to have a longer [shelf] life with their shoes. So it has become a viable service that is part of the economic footprint of people who are trying to manage their [assets].
What’s next for the Houston Citizens Chamber of Commerce?
We are celebrating our 75th anniversary. Right now our focus is on economic empowerment and we are involved in a pilot program with the Houston Chapter of the National Black MBA Association, where 100 of their members have agreed to patronize five of the Chambers’ retail related businesses each month for six months, for a total of 30 businesses. We are tracking spending, economic impact and making those 100 people aware of businesses they may not have known of. For example, there is a member that owns ten Shell gas stations in Houston and we are making them aware of those locations so that they can make the intentional choice to support black owned businesses.