Closing the gap: Elk Grove chamber works to grow more Black- and brown-owned businesses

Closing the gap: Elk Grove chamber works to grow more Black- and brown-owned businesses
Darrell Smith
The Sacramento Bee


Aug. 10—A multicultural Elk Grove has long been the city’s calling card. It’s an important part of its image, as attractive a selling point for newcomers to the fast-growing city as it is a badge of pride for residents.
That diversity is borne out by the demographics in a city where a little more than one in three residents are white; Asian-Americans are 28% of the population; more than 18% of residents are Hispanic; nearly 11% are Black and another 6% are multiracial. Elk Grove celebrates its annual Diversity Month in August encouraging its residents to “Travel the globe without leaving the city.”
And it’s seen on a city council led by the nation’s first Sikh woman to serve as a mayor and who is joined on the dais by two more Asian-American council members.
For all of that, the view is different in an Elk Grove small business community with few Black- and Hispanic-owned business owners and entrepreneurs, said leaders of an Elk Grove Chamber of Commerce task force Monday.
“There are gaps that need to be closed — small business gaps,” said Edward Bush, president of Cosumnes River College and head of the Elk Grove Chamber of Commerce’s Economic Equity Task Force. “Our goal is to close the gaps with Black and Latino small businesses in Elk Grove… We want groups to be as equally prosperous in our community. That’s the end game.”
Bush led the hour-long virtual roundtable Monday, a mix of more than a dozen local business owners and leaders including Elk Grove restaurateur Michael Thomas of MacQue’s Barbecue and California Black Small Business Association President Salena Pryor; Elk Grove Chamber President Angela Perry and Elk Grove Unified School District Superintendent Chris Hoffman.
The chamber task force emerged from the May 2020 killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police and the national reckoning on race that rose in the wake of Floyd’s death.
The protests and conversations that followed shone new light on longstanding problems of inequity and led to a reassessment of priorities here at home — a “self-interrogation of our work,” Bush said Monday.
“The communities in need of work continued to be Black and brown communities,” Bush said. “How can we address inequities and address the economic gaps that exist in our communities?”
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the economic toll it has levied on small businesses, particularly Black- and brown-owned businesses, make the task force’s mission that much more pressing, MacQue’s Thomas said.
“The pandemic is not going away, as we can see,” Thomas said. “We need to get active.”
That means getting more important information into the hands of Black and brown business owners and would-be business owners, participants said, to allow them to turn business dreams into reality. Others suggested city liaisons to minority-owned businesses and city or chamber events that spotlight Elk Grove’s Black- and brown-owned businesses.
But “we can’t do that without partnerships,” Bush said. “We aren’t going to be able to fix this by ourselves.”
The city’s prosperity, Bush continued, is contingent on addressing communities that have been ignored in the past, “so we don’t continue to leave behind people who’ve been left.”
Bush said he hoped the task force’s ongoing work “will set Elk Grove apart. We want to send a strong message to communities of color.”
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