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Minority Chambers of Commerce Join Forces on Ward Parkway 'A One-stop Shop for Minority Business'

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Above image credit: A newly-acquired building at 9100 Ward Parkway will house the Minority Chamber Development Center. (Mary Sanchez | Flatland)
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3 minute read

The tony address is not lost on anyone. 

Ward Parkway, symbolic of Kansas City’s cultured and monied elite, has long been regarded as an address with financial cache. 

But avenues for attaining such wealth have remained elusive and largely unachievable for many of the region’s Black and Latino-owned businesses. They often lack capital and professional networks. Many still struggle with the legacies of redlining and other discriminatory practices. 

Times are changing. 

The Minority Chamber Development Center is a new collaboration between two local chambers of commerce representing Black and Hispanic businesses. 

Paperwork to formalize the arrangement was signed recently at the center’s address — 9100 Ward Parkway — during an event featuring a U.S. undersecretary of commerce. 

The center is believed to be the first organization-of-color-owned building on Ward Parkway. Moreover, it is also believed to be the first such combined Black-Latino business development center nationally, thanks to the help of the federal government. 

The building was bought for $2.5 million out of $4 million in Community Project Funding secured by U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver in the federal budget. The funding targets economic development spending in underserved communities. 

The unified effort brings together the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Greater Kansas City and the Heartland Black Chamber of Commerce. 

Black and Brown coalitions working together for the betterment of all has long been a passion for Cleaver. 

“They own it,” Cleaver said. “It’s not just rent or a lease, but they own it, and they own it on Ward Parkway.” 

Two men wearing suits talk in rooms with other people in the background.
Carlos Gomez, president and CEO of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Greater Kansas City warmly greeted U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, whose help allowed for the purchase of a building that will house a joint minority business development center with the Heartland Black Chamber of Commerce. ( Mary Sanchez | Flatland )

Cleaver was Kansas City’s first African American mayor, serving two terms beginning in 1991. During his tenure he pressed for the creation of a formal Black-Brown coalition, an effort that didn’t gain sustained traction although many relationships were enhanced. 

Cleaver said he recognized an opportunity when the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Greater Kansas City sought his help in securing a building. 

He told Carlos Gomez, president and CEO, that he would pursue funding if the effort could leverage the Kansas City Hispanic Chamber’s strengths alongside a Black chamber. 

“I told them, ‘I’ll do it but only if you will come together,’” recalled Cleaver, a Democrat. 

Creating what Gomez calls “a one-stop shop for minority business” was a logical next step as the Hispanic Chamber had already cultivated a relationship with the Heartland Black Chamber of Commerce. 

“This is so the awareness, the opportunities are out there for all communities to move their businesses ahead,” Gomez said. 

The group’s formal signing of a memo of understanding included the signature and continued commitment of the federal government. 

Eric Morrissette, chief of staff for the Deputy U.S. Secretary of Commerce, did the honor. 

“I work for all of you,” Morrissette told an audience of about 100 people who gathered at the new offices for a June 21 event. 

Morrissette is the undersecretary of commerce for Minority Business Development, a program established more than 50 years ago. But it only formally became an agency within the federal government in 2021, when President Joe Biden signed legislation that made it permanent and with expanded powers. 

“Our job is to help create wealth for our communities by reaching across all of the federal agencies that exist within the United States government,” Morrissette said. 

The assistance will focus on helping businesses grow by attracting capital, addressing procurement needs and developing professional networks. 

Morrissette emphasized that business owners should also consider opportunities globally. 

He said an underutilized and overlooked strength of many minority-owned businesses are ties to other nations and cultural connections. 

“Part of being an ethnic minority in this country means that we have networks that might exist beyond us,” he said. “I want to tap into that as I work across this country.” 

Man bends down to sign document on a table, three other men stand behind him.
Agreements, some signed as memorandums of understanding were exchanged for the creation of a new Minority Chamber Development Center in Kansas City. Eric Morrissette, chief of staff to the Deputy Secretary of Commerce, signed the documents to confirm the role and cooperation of the federal government. (Mary Sanchez | Flatland)

In her remarks, Kim Randolph Davis, president and CEO of Heartland Black Chamber, emphasized the inclusive goals of the new combined offices. 

The Heartland chamber works in the four-state area of Missouri, Kansas, Iowa and Nebraska. 

The organization’s roots are traced to the late Leroy C. Tombs, Sr. of Bonner Springs, Kansas, who held federal food service contracts for military bases. 

Davis introduced leaders from the Korean and LGBTQ communities, both of which have their own chamber organizations. 

All such groups will be welcome at the new offices and offered the same assistance as the Black and Latino chambers, Davis said. 

“This is truly the minority chambers development center,” she said. “Not one, not two, but all of us in Kansas City. We will all be coming together.” 

Mary Sanchez is a senior reporter for Kansas City PBS.

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