116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Nationwide, gaps persist in pay, promotion, and hiring for Black candidates. With a median income roughly $13,000 less than the median income for white Iowans, it is not surprising that for many Black Iowa residents entrepreneurship might hold more promise for economic advancement than working for someone else.
Last week, Daymond John of FUBU and Shark Tank fame addressed over one hundred Iowans at the second annual Black and Brown Business Seminar in West Des Moines. John described his own experiences as a young entrepreneur selling hats outside of the Apollo theater, FUBU’s rise to the heights of popularity in the late 1990s, and the transition from product production to business acquisition. The conversation with Daymond John served as capstone for an event hosted by the West Des Moines Chamber of Commerce that also provided information sessions and panel discussions on topics including real estate investment, scaling a startup, and wealth management. At the event’s pitch competition, beauty products, video games, real estate software, and renewable energy were just a few of the industries represented by those vying for $46,000 in funding. Every business that competed for funding received at least $2,000 with the largest prize awarded to Chicago software firm Lumena.
Several members of local government were at the event, including West Des Moines Mayor Russ Trimble who offered these thoughts:
“I am proud of the steps West Des Moines has taken to be more welcoming and inclusive. It is a constant work in progress. We have reviewed and made changes in policies and procedures that took our municipal equality index from a failing grade to a score of 100 percent. We have worked to prioritize gender balance across all of our boards and commissions. We have ramped up our outreach efforts in recruiting for city jobs to make sure we cast the widest net possible for top talent. We have also recently hired a DEI Director who will review and make suggested changes to things like city policies and procedures, recruiting and hiring practices, training requirements and others. Outreach efforts to engage historically marginalized populations will be ramped up and amplified to ensure all voices are heard and that everyone has a chance to participate.
“Hosting the 2nd annual Black and Brown Business Summit was a huge honor for us. We want minority owned businesses and entrepreneurs to know we value them and the work they are doing. We value their voices and their contributions. We want them to know that West Des Moines is open for business and that we are here to help them be successful. We want to ensure that West Des Moines is a place where everyone, regardless of their background, will have a chance to grow, succeed and thrive.”
There are several Iowa communities working toward equity in terms of economic development — Council Bluffs with an upcoming Diversity Equity and Inclusion Workshop hosted by their Chamber of Commerce, the Corridor area with the DEI Index launched just this month — even Dubuque, long plagued by lingering overt racism, held their inaugural Black Business Expo in August.
As a former resident of Dubuque at a time when 20/20 came to town to shine a light on the KKK resurgence of 1993, I was surprised to hear the city had hosted such an event. Local Financial Professional Nick Anderson filled me in on some of the progress Dubuque has made in the years since.
“The Black population in Dubuque has continued to grow. The old mentality hasn’t completely gone away, there are still undertones (of racism), but it hasn’t stopped progress. I came to Dubuque on a scholarship to Clarke University. While I was in school, I built a network, got to know the area — I spent four years here! If I moved back home to Chicago, I would have been starting from scratch. The Expo was a showcase of several Black business owners in town as well as a celebration and recognition of people that have been in business for a while.”
One of those recognized at the event was Dusty Rogers, a former MLB player and now owner of Dusty Rogers Baseball and Softball Academy.
Anderson explained that the Black Business Expo was the brainchild of a group called the Collective Small Business Alliance, a group functioning as a Black Chamber of Commerce in the city. He also noted the importance of networking groups like AAP — the African American Professionals group that operates in the Corridor.
“There is power in proximity, and representation matters. As a financial planner, my day job is making sure I'm helping to build equity and build legacy in marginalized communities. In the Black community, there is a lot of effort put into making money and not enough information about keeping money. I strongly believe that if I wasn’t here to have these conversations, they wouldn’t be had.”
Conversations between Black professionals and business people in Iowa often turn to plans for relocation. As a state that spends quite a bit of time hand-wringing over the exodus of talent and education, investment in creating an environment where people want to live seems like an obvious imperative.
As Mayor Trimble put it, “Every city in the state should want to be a place where people of all backgrounds feel welcomed and included, especially those most marginalized. And for people reading this with their political hats on, this has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with our shared humanity. The more welcoming and inclusive a city is, the more success that city will have in attracting future residents and businesses and the happier those residents and businesses will be. But this doesn’t happen by accident. It takes a proactive approach to reviewing policies and procedures and the willingness to make a change.”
Sofia DeMartino is a Gazette editorial fellow. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org