• Ferguson 5 Years Later

    Aug 09, 2019

    On the fifth anniversary of the death of Ferguson resident Michael Brown, we at the St. Louis Regional Chamber want to take a moment to reflect on what the word “Ferguson” has meant to the St. Louis region. It is a reminder that the St. Louis region has a long history of racial, economic and social disparities that continue to hold us back today. We as a community have made notable strides in addressing these issues, but we still have much work to do.

    We want to recognize the leadership of the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis, Ameren, Centene, BJC Healthcare, St. Louis Economic Development Partnership and others who worked with the Ferguson, Dellwood and North County communities to bring jobs, support business recovery and invest in successful community programs to improve employment, health and education outcomes. Forward Through Ferguson’s 2018 State of the Report determined we now need to move beyond the program level to collaborate at the state and local levels to bring about lasting policy and systems change called for by the Ferguson Commission and the community. Five years later, we have an important opportunity to do just that.

    Over the last five years, the Chamber has worked with over 100 area educational institutions, employers and community organizations to address education and workforce gaps. We continually talk with our members about how in our tight labor market, workforce is a major challenge; however, as identified in St. Louis Community College State of the Workforce report, justice-involved citizens, people with disabilities, and African-American men ages 18-24 are still underrepresented and do not reap the benefits of our regional economic strength.

    This moment should push businesses to examine hiring practices that limit the candidate pool and possibly result in racial disparities, including limiting professional development opportunities, mandatory drug testing, felony exclusions and degree requirements. Workforce demand encourages employers to look at innovative transportation and training solutions and to invest in education. It forces us to look at ways to be more inclusive, knock down barriers to employment and invest in results-driven training programs. Workforce development is a challenge, but it can also be used as an opportunity.

    Access to a good-paying job or business capacity will not totally fix our region’s racial disparities but it is an area in which the Chamber and the business community can directly affect. We are encouraged by recent collaborative initiatives like STLWorks, Save Our Sons, the Diverse Business Accelerator and Project 250. We as a business community can take advantage of these immediate workforce demands to collaborate to address long-standing systemic barriers to education, employment and minority business capacity. Five years later, today is an opportunity we cannot afford to lose.

  • St. Louis Region Receives Grant to Address Equity in Entrepreneurship

    Dec 01, 2016

    While startup activity in the St. Louis region and in the United States is rising, women and minorities consistently have lower rates of entrepreneurship.  Addressing the gender and racial equity in the startup community has become a core priority for the region.  To align efforts, the St. Louis Equity in Entrepreneurship Collective was formed.  The initial Collective comprises twelve St. Louis area nonprofit and governmental organizations, including the St. Louis Regional Chamber.

    The Collective is one of 12 recipients of the Kauffman Inclusion Challenge grant nationwide and will receive $420,000 over two years from the prestigious Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation to help female and historically underrepresented entrepreneurs of color in high-growth sectors.  The Collective will help ensure that St. Louis’ high-tech, high-growth entrepreneurial pathways are open for all to participate and benefit. “Entrepreneurship is a pathway to prosperity for all communities, but especially for communities of color and women in St. Louis who have been historically disenfranchised or underserved,” said Dr. Cheryl Watkins-Moore, head of the Inclusion Initiative for BioSTL, the organization that conceptualized and submitted the grant on behalf of the Collective. “Together, we want to help ensure there is gender and racial equity in the start-up community, which means an entrepreneur’s success cannot be predicted based on their identity.”

    In awarding the Collective a grant, Kauffman signaled that the group has the potential not only to transform the way St. Louis supports underrepresented entrepreneurs, but could also serve as a model for replication in similar regions across the country. “Entrepreneurship in America should be available to everyone, yet women and minorities continue to face more obstacles to starting businesses when it comes to accessing funding, education, mentors and markets,” said Victor Hwang, vice president of Entrepreneurship at the Kauffman Foundation. “The Inclusion Challenge grants will enable these outstanding support organizations to expand their services to empower more entrepreneurs and help them succeed. The nation and our economy as a whole will benefit from more entrepreneurs generating income and wealth in traditionally underserved markets.”

    The importance of racial equity in policy, program design, and resource allocation – as a step beyond diversity and inclusion – became the focus of the Ferguson Commission report after the unrest in Ferguson in August 2014.   The Collective is working to purposefully align its work with the report and organizations working to apply a racial equity lens in other areas of the community.  This alignment provides a framework that can be used to advance gender equity and address other identity-based inequities that may exist.  The Kauffman grant will help the Collective gather regional baseline data and build ongoing tracking systems, receive individual anti-bias training for ESOs, complete a needs assessment and pilot new activities.  

    Initial members of the Collective that have committed to a more intentional and rigorous process of building an equitable entrepreneurship ecosystem are (in alphabetical order): Arch Grants – BioSTL – Center for Emerging Technologies (CET) – Cortex – IT Entrepreneurship Network (ITEN) – Missouri Small Business Development Center – Prosper Women’s Entrepreneurs – St. Louis Economic Development Partnership – St. Louis Makes – St. Louis Regional Chamber – T-Rex – Venture Café.  The Collective membership is expected to broaden and, over the course of the work, members will engage a wide range of partners working to build a robust entrepreneur start-up community in St. Louis.