Milwaukee business leaders discuss how region can address racial disparities

Leaders say more opportunity needed for black professionals, businesses

In the midst of nationwide protests and civil unrest over long-standing racial injustices, some business leaders in Milwaukee Tuesday discussed how the community can work to overcome these issues.

The discussion was part of a webinar put on Tuesday by the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce. It was held as groups in Milwaukee and elsewhere protest the recent death of George Floyd, who was killed by a Minneapolis police officer.

Nicole Robbins, executive director of Dr. Martin Luther King Economic Development Corp., said Floyd’s death was one instance of racism that reaches back centuries.

“It’s been heartbreaking and disheartening that we are in 2020 and still having the same issues that really have gone back to over 400 years,” Robbins said. ” … It’s just a very difficult time for me personally and also as an organization, but we’re working together to try to impact as much change as possible right now.”

Floyd, a black man in Minneapolis, was killed last week when a police officer kneeled on the back of his neck for several minutes. Protesters have spoken out on not only against his death but racism in all forms.

Racial disparities exist in the business world, including in Milwaukee. An MMAC study found metro Milwaukee ranks last among 20 of its peer cities when it comes to the prosperity gap between both African American and white residents and Hispanic and white residents

Kevin Newell, president and chief executive officer of Royal Capital Group LLC, said perhaps the biggest barrier black-owned businesses face is access to capital. It is hard for businesses to forecast three to 12 months out without a reserve line of credit, he said.

“Everything else I think is secondary to that,” Newell said. “I would think that access to capital at an affordable rate is the biggest challenge, particularly this community, faces.”

Clifton Phelps, co-owner and vice president of business development for JCP Construction, said another challenge business owners need to overcome is breaking into what he called the “Good Ole Boy” network, or getting in front of the right people to increase their customer base.

“There’s a lot of deals being done in Milwaukee where we’re not at the table,” he said.

Businesses can help lift up black workers and businesses in a number of ways, the MMAC webinar panelists said.

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You can also view the recording of the webinar below: