Being a small business owner is tough, especially for minority-owned businesses. The Berkshire Black Economic Council hopes to change that | Business

PITTSFIELD — Warren Dews Jr. has lived in the Berkshires for 11 years. He has been involved in many business ventures and sits on several regional boards. He knows the presidents of the local banks by their first names.

Yet when Dews recently tried to secure a loan to open a cigar lounge in Pittsfield, he found no takers.

“I know how to run a business,” he said. “I did the business report, I had a business plan. I did all those things, and there was just nothing for me to get a loan.

“If someone like me knows him and he knows me and I can’t get a loan, then what about the other person trying to start a business,” he said. declared.

Dews is black.

This is where the Berkshire Black Economic Council hopes to make a difference. The goal of the small nonprofit formed in May is to continue to foster, design and build black and other minority-owned businesses in the Berkshires, including black nonprofits, according to its website. The council has 65 black-owned businesses in its directory.

The group focuses on growth and sustainability; business training and mentoring; economic justice; marketing and media; and financing and investing, which includes helping Black-owned businesses seek grants.

He wants to help black-owned businesses become minority business enterprises and help other businesses with diversity, equity and inclusion in the greater Berkshire business community.

“We don’t just want a seat at the table,” Dews said. “We want seats at the table. … If you’re willing to take those steps, we’ll work with you.”

“The reality, from my perspective, is that we’re living through the second civil rights movement right now,” said Shirley Edgerton, board member, founder of the Women of Color Giving Circle and cultural competency coach for schools. Pittsfield public. “So I think it’s important that as a black organization we help educate others, not just the black community.”

The group collaborates with, but is not part of, the Black Economic Council of Massachusetts in Boston. The members say it was important for the band to retain its own identity initially, since Boston is so far away.

“We decided to train because many of us are entrepreneurs and longtime members of the Berkshire community with a passion for economic development,” said Berkshire Black Economic Council Chairman Alfred “AJ” Enchill. Jr., an aide to Senator Adam Hinds. , D-Pittsfield, said during a recent meeting of board members with The Eagle’s editorial board.

“With our expertise and experience, and working daily in the community, we decided to join forces and make our presence known and find a way to regionalize and create different political and strategic initiatives and different initiatives of economic development to add to the black business community here,” he said.

Enchill grew up in Pittsfield, the son of an immigrant from Ghana who owned and operated Elegant Stitches, a small business in Pittsfield celebrating its 25th anniversary. His father, Alfred Sr., his brother, Auric, and Dews are also members of the eight-member council. The board is made up of all volunteers and seeks sources of sustainable funding. He hires a grants writer.

Over the past nine months, the council has developed an economic development plan and hosted its first event – ​​a fall speed networking expo at The Stationery Factory in Dalton.

“At the time, we were able to bring about 20 black businesses together under one roof,” AJ Enchill said, “and celebrate their stories and communicate the various issues they faced on the way to startup.

“Our board members are all asking important questions within the greater Berkshire business community,” he said. “What do you do to start a business relationship, or what have been your challenges in starting a business, or various financial questions. We try to get those answers and get to the root of their problems .

“I think a lot of people want to know what black businesses are doing and how they can help support economic justice.”

Acting as a resource for Berkshire’s black community can help the council benefit the region’s wider economic development, Dews said.

“If we are able to thrive, the Berkshires will thrive,” he said. “It will help everyone.”

Board member Marcus Coleman used an analogy to describe the board’s aspirations and goals.

“Think of us as farmers,” Coleman said. “Right now, we’re planting a seed and we’re fertilizing the ground so that we can grow the black community, and a big part of growing the black community is the economic aspect. So by empowering black businesses, businesses can to create autonomous communities.

“And that’s the goal here,” said Coleman, a financial adviser from New Jersey. He assists the board in the areas of finance, research and operations. “If we come up with a good plan, people like me who are transplant recipients will move into the area. It’s a benefit not just for the black community, but for Berkshires.”

One of the council’s main roles is to provide Black-owned businesses with the resources they need to access grants and capital from places they may not know exist. In an interview with The Eagle in October, AJ Enchill said many black-owned businesses do not meet the parameters that private and public entities require companies to meet in order to provide grants and loans.

“Most entrepreneurs of minority-owned businesses are individuals,” Alfred Enchill Sr said. “One thing that happens is that the business is registered in your name, and sometimes the bank account is in your name. So when these grants are paid out, [the owners] come in, and if the business is in their name, it’s supposed to be for the business, so you’re not eligible to begin with.

“Those are some of the things that we know exist in the community,” he said. “…We can educate them so that when the grants come in and there’s a business opportunity, you can come in and say, ‘Here’s the business entity, and I’m running the business. “”

Many grant programs are available that minority business owners may not be aware of.

“When we surveyed Black businesses countywide, nearly 70% received no COVID assistance at all,” AJ Enchill said.

“There’s a ton of federal and state grants and resources, if you think about technical assistance,” Coleman said. “A lot of black businesses just aren’t aware of these resources. … We’re doing this due diligence for them and introducing them to them from a trusted source. We’ve had similar experiences and they feel right at home. ‘easy.”

Being able to speak with someone who comes from the same cultural background is an added bonus, board members said.

“To use an analogy, if you spoke a language, you want to go to someone you can talk to,” Dews lamented. “The language that black people speak may not be understood by some organizations. Trust is a really key factor.”

“I think all groups have a culture, whether it’s race, ethnicity, or gender,” Edgerton said. “There is a certain culture, a certain behavior and a certain attitude, and all of us sitting here have a connection to the black community in terms of history, identity and culture. So we understand that if you want to ensure that information is circulating in the black community, you use informal sources like churches, or use people who are like the mayors of the community.They have never been elected, but they are the true resources of the community.

“The Berkshire Black Economic Council can serve this purpose for the black community.”

For more information on the Berkshire Black Economic Council, visit berkshirebec.org.

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