UMEA has seen a greater influx of new members. Nonprofit, known as Minority Chamber of Commerce, helps minority businesses grow in CNY
By Stefan Yablonski
Minority businesses in CNY have a strong advocate in Me’Shae Rolling.
In September 2020, she became executive director of Upstate Minority Economic Alliance (UMEA) in Syracuse.
Founded in 2015, UMEA remains the only minority chamber of commerce in the 16-county Upstate New York region.
Its board of directors is comprised of some of the region’s most prominent members and organizations and is “exploring means and initiatives to combat an economy plagued by economic disparity,” Rolling said.
The nonprofit’s mission is “to harness the economic power of the minority community for the benefit of the Upstate and Central New York region, with a vision to create greater regional prosperity through enhanced minority economic opportunity,” she explained.
UMEA’s vision: “We strive to create a greater regional prosperity through enhanced minority economic opportunity,” according to its website.
UMEA and CenterState CEO partnered to create the region’s first minority chamber of commerce, which works on behalf of minority business owners and as an agency for economic development focused on professionals of color.
Through its alliance, UMEA and CenterState CEO offers members of each organization greater opportunity to connect, network and collaborate, while advancing shared goals to create a more inclusive economy.
Rolling planned to grow the group. It already had about 70 members by December 2019. It has close to 200 nowadays, she said, primarily African American and Latino.
“I’m running UMEA solo. I am in the process of hiring not one but two people to help me expand capacity. UMEA has exploded! Our membership has exploded,” she said, emphasizing the word.
“The chamber, the grants everything has exploded, she added. “The bad news is I am still one person. That’s why it’s so hard for people to even get a simple appointment with me. I am constantly going —grant deadlines, all kinds of deadlines; I need to work extra hard at protecting my personal time.”
The positions she will be hiring are: one will be a membership services specialist and an administrative/operations assistant — “so I can get out from underneath all of the paperwork.”
Currently, the chamber has about 200 members, she noted. They are primarily African American and Latino.
“We do have a couple of Asian Americans that are members, that is a low percentage,” she said. “But we do have a couple, but not any significant percentage.”
Even though they have 170 members UMEA’s reach is far beyond 170, she added.
“Businesses often have more than one employee that they want to receive the chamber information,” she said. “We call it reach or touch points.”
The groups that are represented in UMEA are construction services professionals (in construction and non-construction trades), catering and food services, and commodities … they sell goods.
“As with any chamber, we are composed of startups as well as mature business enterprises,” she said. “And those who are still working traditional day jobs to pay the bills and want to transition into full-time entrepreneurship.”
They represent emerging, growing and mature businesses; some are home-based, some mom-and-pop and some brick and mortar.
Seeing an increase
“I would say it is the construction and professional services where we’re seeing the largest increase currently,” Rolling said.
It’s not entirely due to Micron investing billions in CNY.
“The businesses obviously existed before Micron’s announcement. I do think Micron’s presence has accentuated the presences of the professional service providers,” she said.
Back in February, UMEA hosted a reception for top Micron executives and the purpose of that reception was to expose the executives to the diverse purveyors in this region, she said.
”And conversely to introduce them to Micron,” she added.
UMEA provides technical assistance to members.
“We work well in the playground with other stakeholders in the entrepreneurial ecosystem,” she said. “We do strategic networking, facilitated introduction and connection to resources — human, social and financial access to capital.”
“There is no ‘normal’ day; no day looks the same. On any given day, I am attending stakeholder meetings on behalf of the chamber. Additionally, I am engaged in public relations in terms of membership recruitment and then processing those membership invoices — converting prospects into, you know, members and then of course servicing the members — making sure they have chamber services to help them grow and sustain and be profitable enterprises,” she said.
‘Quite powerful, but also quite understated’
“The data, when it comes to minority business, is either inaccurate or anemic at best or absent. It’s one of those three,” according to Rolling.
Based on the data UMEA has been gathering, “We know that women and minority enterprises are more likely to turn around and hire other minorities or women,” Rolling said. “Whenever UMEA is in the market for goods and services, we turn right back around and hire minorities. The economic impact is tremendous, it is enormous.”
The Black and Latino buying power in the region is more than $170 billion. There are thousands of Black and Latino entrepreneurs offering diverse goods and services.
There are other minority-oriented chambers in the state and around the country, Rolling said, adding “UMEA is the only minority chamber of commerce in the Central and Ipstate region. There is representation in Albany, Rochester and Buffalo.”
She is on the board of directors of the Upstate Black Chamber of Commerce. It is based out of Albany, but it is region-focused. It seeks to connect Black and minority chambers from a regional perspective, she explained.
Rolling said she has been with UMEA since 2019, “a bit before pandemic.”
She describes herself as “a serial entrepreneur.”
“I own two types of businesses. One centers around financial literacy education and the other one is, I’m the operator of an events franchise,” she said. “By training I have been in the events and conference industry for going on three decades — UMEA happened by osmosis.”
Financial literacy offers classes on financial empowerment. She is a franchisee of EventPrep, which sources, procures and contracts hotels nationwide, as well as event planning.
Time to relax
With all that she has going, how does she find time to relax?
“I appreciate the question. I really do; thank you for asking,” she replied. “When I do get down time, I have to guard it ferociously as you can well imagine. It’s typically low-key. My favorite TV channel is Turner Classic Movies. My husband and I love watching TCM. I enjoy taking walks whether they are in my neighborhood or in one of Syracuse’s beauuutiful parks. We have so many beautiful parks and lakes that are minutes from each other! I like to walk, ride my bike in terms of physical activity or watch TCM and then the only other thing I’d add to that is when I get the opportunity I just lounge on the deck.”
For more information on UMEA, visit www.upstatemea.com.
New York: 20th Best State for Minority-Owned Businesses
A recent study shows that despite facing an uphill climb, there are a record 1.2 million minority-owned businesses in America.
New York is the No. 20 best state for them to succeed.
However, succeeding as an entrepreneur is tough. Roughly 20% of all entrepreneurs fail within their first year. The ultimate reason — they do not have enough capital. The issue disproportionally impacts minorities.
Minorities have an even steeper hill to climb. Income inequality, limited access to loans and other biases lead to a lack of capital needed to start businesses and survive the early years in the red.
Lendio released a study on the best and worst states for minority entrepreneurs using the most recent data from the Census Bureau and the Small Business Administration.
Lendio offers small business financing and loans online. It doesn’t lend money directly itself; rather, it partners with a network of more than 75 other lenders to help businesses get the funding.
The rankings were determined by analyzing myriad factors in all 50 states and D.C. including percentage of businesses that are minority owned, job growth at these companies, unemployment and business loans to underserved communities.
The 10 best states for minority entrepreneurs are Hawaii, Maryland, Maine, Delaware, New Jersey, Florida, California, Virginia, Texas and Idaho.
The average white household earns $77,999 per year compared to $57,981 for Hispanics and $48,297 for blacks.
Meanwhile, 52% of white applicants get fully approved for business loans, compared to 27% and 28% for Hispanic and black entrepreneurs.
Despite these challenges, many states are strong incubators of minority businesses.
The good news is that the government is taking steps to level the playing field.
The percentage of the SBA’s Community Advantage loans awarded to underserved communities increased from 34% in 2017 to 45% in 2022.
• New York: Minorities own 23.7% of all businesses and 29.6% of startups less than two years old. The number of jobs at these companies grew by 83% from 2019-21. The state distributes fewer business loans to underserved communities ($292 per capita) compared to the national average ($351 per capita) through the Federal Community Reinvestment Act.
• The national outlook is mixed: From 2017-20, companies started by minorities increased substantially across the country: Native Americans (64.8%), Pacific Islanders (28.8%), Latinos (16.5%), Blacks (13.6%) and Asians (10.2%). However, while 52% of business loans get fully approved for whites, that drops to 35% for Asians, 28% for Hispanics and 27% for Blacks.
By setting up shop in a favorable location, minority entrepreneurs improve their chances to succeed. Many lower-ranking states are increasing their investments in underserved communities.