By Rodney Brown
According to a 2015 Neilson Company study, the combined buying power of African Americans and Hispanics is projected to exceed $2.3 trillion in 2017. Native Americans will contribute $96 billion, and Asian consumers will supply $713 billion. However, about 90 percent of that amount will be going to businesses owned and operated by non-minority business owners.
As a result, Upstate and Central New York financial experts have decided to cater to minority-owned businesses in urban cities such as Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo, with a strategy to bring them together, to form a minority chamber of commerce.
Officials said the Upstate Minority Economic Alliance (UMEA), a non-profit organization operating in Central New York, has a vision to create regional prosperity through enhancing minority economic opportunity.
UMEA’s CEO, Edward Cuello, co-founded the Latino Professional Network of Syracuse (LPNS), and also currently works as a Financial Professional with Prudential in Syracuse.
According to Cuello, there had been two prior attempts to start a black chamber, and a separate Latino chamber, but both were unsuccessful. Then, in late 2011, he researched the Hispanic Chamber, and found that Rita Paniagua, of La Liga (The Spanish Action League), was listed as the contact person.
Cuello said, when he called Paniagua, she explained the chamber had been incorporated by Hugo Acosta, and Dr. Maritza Alvarado, but had never become a reality.
“Rita was looking for a partner with business experience to approach CenterState about partnering with them to open a Hispanic Chamber,” he stated. “At the same time, my partner at LPNS and I had been working on joint projects with leaders in the black community like Tim Penix, Sharon Owens, Joe Bryant, Davine Bey, and others. What we found was that many of the challenges facing our two communities were similar, and that, historically, we had not joined effectively to advocate for change, and address issues of economic opportunity. So, we decided to make MEA a chamber for all minorities that would begin with a special focus on the black and Latino communities.”
The inner cities of Syracuse, Rochester, and Buffalo are predominately minority, with blacks and Hispanics comprising close to 87 percent of the individual cities’ urban populations. In addition, according to the Albany Business Review, minority buying power in the Upstate New York region will exceed an estimated $100 billion in 2016.
Cuello said UMEA’s mission is to harness the economic power of the minority community for the benefit of the Upstate and Central New York region.
“We have recruited a top notch executive board, and advisory board, as well as volunteers to help us move forward and become a reality,” he stated. “Our services and pricing have been designed, and we are in the process of going through focus groups with business owners to get their feedback, so we can refine our services even further. Recent successes include partnering with CenterState CEO to secure a $10,000 grant from Bank of America, to start a minority entrepreneur business incubator, as well as launching our first community forum, in July at the South Side Innovation Center, where over 90 business owners and agency leaders attended, and gave us valuable feedback. An indication of the need for UMEA is that people not only came from the Syracuse area, but from as far away as Buffalo, Rochester, and Binghamton.”
CenterState Corporation for Economic Opportunity is a regional business leadership organization, chamber of commerce, and economic development organization based in Syracuse. The organization represents 2,000 businesses of all sizes, and serves as the primary business resource and catalyst for development in a twelve-county area.
According to Cuello, a partnership with CenterState would give UMEA members access to more customers, and the chance to significantly increase revenues.
However, the question is, why haven’t minority businesses been able to grow, multiply, or formulate in cities such as Syracuse thus far, where a great percentage of the population are minorities?
“The answer to this question is complicated,” he stated. “But, we see the pattern play out in cities all over America: power and economic opportunity held in the hands of too few people who have not historically been open to working with minority businesses; discriminatory practices in housing and lending stacking the deck against black and brown businesses; the flight of white residents from urban areas to suburbs, and the decline of tax revenue and local schools; the shipment of manufacturing jobs out of the US, when many of those jobs sustained an African-American and Latino middle class; increases in negative behaviors in communities of color such as crime and substance abuse, due to lack of opportunity; development policies that hurt urban communities; a historic lack of clear government response to the growing wealth gap between the white community and black and brown communities; and a lack of effective political organizing and overall coordination between all minorities in urban areas.”
“We coordinated with the Regional Economic Development Council and applied for a substantial grant from Gov. Cuomo’s Upstate Revitalization Initiative,” Cuello added. “If our region wins the competition, and our grant is awarded, UMEA will launch programs to further expand our minority business incubation program; partner with other organizations to expand character-based lending programs for easier access to capital; work to place underutilized professionals of color in more demanding, higher paying jobs; help our member businesses get MWBE-certified so they can qualify for county, state, and city contracting; run entrepreneurship programs for SCSD students of color; and establish a first of its kind database of minority business owners in the 16 county region.”