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Creating a support system

Greater Green Bay Chamber adjusts approach to build relationships, open communication channels with diverse small businesses

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September 23, 2022

GREEN BAY – Small businesses are often regarded as the heartbeat of a community – pumping vitality into an area’s economy and neighborhoods.

However, Maria Padilla, the diverse small business manager with the Green Bay Chamber – a newly created position with the chamber, said possibly one of their most important roles is aiding in the formation and shaping of a community’s identity.

And as a community is diverse, Padilla said, so too should its small business be, and helping those diverse small businesses succeed and thrive is equally important.

Focused position
Kelly Armstrong, vice president of economic development for the chamber, said the new diverse small business manager role is the result of a partnership between the City of Green Bay and the chamber, designed to focus on small business owners of color.

She said Padilla will work to connect resources to businesses to further help foster a sustainable small business sector.
Armstrong said the idea for the position – which is jointly funded by the chamber and the city – and the chamber’s push to further connect with small businesses started during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We had put together this Back to Business grant, and in the process of that grant going out to small businesses, we realized we didn’t have as many diverse applicants as we would have thought,” she said. “So, we realized we needed to adjust our approach and open more communication channels and build relationships.”

Armstrong said at the same time, the city was having many of the same realizations.

“The city also was looking into having some conversations about things, and so we started having conversations together about, ‘Well, what does this look like, and how could we team up to address small business needs, with diverse small business needs?” she said. “We started down that path and had the conversations, and here we are today with a full-time position with a very talented Maria in place to be able to go out and bring resources to small businesses.”

Armstrong said though the chamber has long offered resources and services to small businesses – seeking them out fell primarily on the businesses.

“We already offer resources and help to small businesses, but the way it’s set up now is the resources we have… you have to come to us,” she said. “So, small businesses have to walk out of their shop, come to our shop and meet with us.”

Armstrong said the addition of the diverse small business manager role now enables the chamber to meet small businesses where they are.

“This gives us a great opportunity to build authentic relationships and also meet businesses where they’re at,” she said.

Building rapport
With just weeks under her belt in the new role, Padilla said her job is to help identify and bridge some of those gaps.

“We’ve noticed there’s not enough awareness as far as all the resources that are out there,” she said. “And I think with us taking that proactive approach and going to small businesses and listening to their needs, we can start saying, ‘oh, okay, maybe going to this resource might be helpful for you.’ So I think a lot of it is just awareness.”

Padilla said the ultimate goal is to have successful small businesses in the area.

“We want to be there to support them in any way we can to make their lives easier and have their business be successful long term,” she said.

Armstrong said what the chamber has seen in their work in general, is that many small business owners go into business because they’re passionate about or good at something.

“But a lot of times that doesn’t always translate to knowing the ins and outs of how to run the finances of a business,” she said.
Armstrong said “we don’t know what we don’t know,” but that by having these “on-their-terms” conversations and visits, the chamber hopes to identify “unarticulated gaps in the resource marketplace.”

“And like Maria said, the beginning is creating awareness, and then it is helping to identify any gaps in resources that might exist,” she said.

Padilla said the proactive approach also helps create trust.

“I think it’s gonna take a little bit of time to create that trust, but I think for the most part, businesses are happy to know there’s someone that’s trying to support them and cares about them succeeding long term,” she said.

Padilla said being bilingual is also a great resource she can offer businesses.

“I’ve already worked with a few businesses who can’t speak English,” she said, “and I think that me being able to communicate with them and offer them the support that they need helps create some trust.”

Just the beginning
Padilla said the position will also help shine a light on other potential gaps in the resource realm.

“If I have a small business that can’t speak English, it’s going to be hard for me to just send them off to a different resource where they might not have anyone that (can help business owners who don’t) speak English,” she said. “So, I think this can also raise some awareness for those resources – maybe they’re going to say, ‘Okay, maybe we need some more diversity within our own programs.’”

Armstrong said the chamber is already moving in that direction.

“We’ve already started looking at materials, and how do we make sure those materials are in different languages as well so the information can be used,” she said.

Padilla said initial connections with businesses is just the beginning.

“Right now, it’s a lot of me going out to small businesses, and that’s just part of my role,” she said. “But I’m hoping to over time, once you help someone then it’s word of mouth like, ‘oh, this person helped me so you should contact them.’”

Padilla said much of that has to do with having those important conversations with business owners and understanding what is needed.

“That’s the plan for the future once I start finding trends,” she said. “Let’s say someone says, ‘I need help with tax returns,’ and there isn’t something currently out there – let’s just say there wasn’t – I could set up a meeting and have a professional speak about tax returns. So events like that in the future are possible, just right now it’s too soon.”

Padilla said overall, the goal of the diverse small business manager position is to be a support system for minority owned businesses

“That is ultimately the goal,” she said.

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