AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – Ronic West and ShaGraila Hammond are doing their parts to help with the advancement and enhancement of Black businesses in the CSRA.
West and Hammond chat with WJBF about the Greater Augusta Black Chamber of Commerce and how this entity benefits the entire community.
Thank you for joining us here on Celebrating Black Excellence. Now, what exactly is the Greater Augusta Black Chamber of Commerce?
Definitely. The Greater Augusta Black Chamber of Commerce is the conduit between business, community, and government for business owners. It’s very important to the business owners in a community understand what’s happening in those three areas to make sure we’re able to carry out our mission as the Greater Augusta Black Chamber of Commerce. So, if you’re like, in layman’s terms, what does that mean? The Chamber of Commerce is there to make sure we provide networking opportunities for business owners, provide resources for business owners, and also provide information to business owners. And a lot of people don’t think about this, but when a new entity or anybody is coming into the city, and they’re trying to find out what’s happening in the community, they’re going to look for a Chamber of Commerce to find out that information. So, it’s very important that we have that representation throughout the CSRA with the chamber.
How did the chamber actually begin?
Well, that’s the story. (Laughs) Well, honestly, I have to give credit to the community. It was three different business owners from the community that had reached out, and we were talking about things to pool business owners in the community together. And they were like, “Hey, we think we need something. We were looking at different types of organizations to start or what was here.” Something to complement the needs of the Central Savannah River Area. And we were just like, “Oh!” I said no three times. Got asked three times, and then, the third time I was like, “Hey, maybe I need to really look at this.” I was like, “I didn’t feel like I was the person to help build it and this, that, and the other.” But once the third time happened, they said, “Chamber of Commerce is what we finally came down to.” I said, “Oh, that makes sense.” Because now you can have committees that can go out and do different things, whereas for military veteran affairs, community affairs, etc. It just covers so many gambits that it really has to have a 360 approach for our black businesses.
And Ronic, you serve as the—
President/Co-founder of the Greater Augusta Black Chamber of Commerce. So, yes, it’s been a great feat getting the chamber and just all the great things that it’s doing for the community and continue to impact business owners.
And ShaGraila, what is your position and how did you get started with the Black Chamber of Commerce?
I’m the program admin. So, I had somebody who was on a committee asking me to pretty much be a part of that committee. And then, I got in, and then, pretty much got over that committee, and then went from there getting into different parts of the chamber including sitting on the board. Then, I became their first official employee as of this year.
Now, why should people, Black businesses, and/or entities get involved with the Black Chamber of Commerce?
Definitely. You want to be involved whether you are a member or non-member. I can’t stress that enough. I know a lot of people are hearing about our programs that we’ve been running, and they’ll be like, “Oh my gosh, I didn’t know you guys were doing all this.” And I’m like, “Well, you know, you have to get involved.” Really go ahead and like our pages, turn on your notifications, and make sure you’re seeing what’s coming out. Join the non-member list if you’re not a member, but if you are a member, of course, you get like discounts on a lot of great things there. We have members-only meetings; we had that Monday. They get special trainings and a lot of times access to things including discounts, of course, more than any others, but the information is the biggest key, especially when it comes to businesses and our community as a whole. If you don’t know the things that are happening, like, for example, I know that the Realtor Association is going through a lawsuit right now that is going to change possibly realtors being able to actually get commission off of selling houses. So, there’s a lot happening within our communities that the Chamber of Commerce is going to make you aware of. Of course, everybody’s looking for access to capital. So, we’ve ran six programs so far since 2021 here at the Chamber of Commerce, and we’ve handed out $472,000 in grants and trained over 600 business owners in the CSRA. So, we’re very passionate about what we’re doing and making sure we’re making strides to keep our communities growing and getting stronger also.
Now, you guys have a program called the Step-Up Program. Can you please tell us about that?
The Step-Up program is a 12-month hybrid program that allows us to do once a month training on different specific topics. We pretty much share the story of growing and sustaining your business. So, in October, we did two classes because some months we double up, but in October, we did business finance, and then, we also did business credit that allow business owners to understand how to work with their money, and then, of course, how to get credit for their business. Then, this month, we’re going to do how to find funding as well. So, we’re kind of on like a little money train right now, but we’re going to explore a lot of different classes. Along with those classes, we also do a one-on-one technical assistance, which is pretty much opportunity for businesses to come in, talk to somebody from the team, and get any assistance and resources with anything they need: marketing, trying to figure out their HR or CPA, maybe what do I need to do to take the next steps in my business, I want to turn myself from just a regular business to a LLC with that paperwork. We simply just provide that information and those resources for them.
What impact have both of you seen since you started it, Ronic, and since you, ShaGraila, have been a part of the Black Chamber?
Ronic: I’m just shocked. I don’t have gray hairs, but the impact has been great. I will say I have seen, and I was in another podcast this weekend, and I was just thinking about that. I was like, you know, the biggest thing is we are only one person, one entity, but if you can actually get somebody else to grow and to continue to contribute to that community that they are living in, that impacts is greater than you can even understand. That’s generations or even people you’re not even connected to. We’ve had businesses move locations, hire more employees, build bigger teams, buy vehicles and stuff from going to our training, changing their CPAs, changing their insurances, which a lot of times can save you money in your business, so you can have operational costs, being able to grow those entities and see entities go from two locations, three locations to six locations that are part of the Chamber of Commerce. That’s the things that we’re seeing in our community, and it’s very important that we grow with our business that are members with the community.
ShaGraila: Yeah, I kind of have the same answer as Ronic, which is being able to see those businesses grow. So, you see them start as like,” Oh I don’t know what to do.” And then after that is like, “Hey, I also just opened this location.” It’s just like, “Wow, this is great.” So, seeing that, and then also of course, meeting the people and getting their stories is also the big thing. I love seeing the businesses that are within the area because you don’t even know half of them until you have to go out and start talking to people. So that’s the next best thing.
If people want to join or if they want more information about the Greater Augusta Black Chamber of Commerce, like how can they get that information?
ShaGraila: You can just simply go to our website, www.mygabc.org, and then when you go to the website, there are tabs at the top with one that says JOIN. Like Ronic was saying earlier, we do have an option for you to join the non-members email, but if you want to be a member, of course, simply go to JOIN. It has membership. You can join with your tier, and then, go from there. Someone will reach out to you, and we’ll be happy to have you.
Ronic: Also, the thing that’s different with us than with other chambers is that we’re part of a bigger coalition. So, not only do we work with chambers in the CSRA with our partners here, but we also are part of coalition of Black chambers, NAACPs, and elected officials throughout the seven states in the south. I serve as first vice president of Georgia Coalition of Black Chambers. So, we actually are representing part of a state organization that covers the entire state of Georgia. So, you get a bigger benefit even there being part of the Greater Augusta Black Chamber of Commerce.