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By Elise Franco, Staff Writer
A new initiative by the Spartanburg Area Chamber of Commerce aims to invest in building a community that is more economically cohesive and inclusive.
The three-pronged initiative, announced Tuesday during the Spencer Hines Properties CEO Social and Business Advocates Reception at the Piedmont Club, includes the hiring of a new position, development of a diverse community leadership pipeline and the creation of an Economic Empowerment Fund.
Allen Smith, chamber president and CEO, said the initiative is one the chamber and its partners have been working on for some time and began when they realized talent and economic inclusion go hand-in-hand.
Smith said what they found was a disconnect between people and how they feel about available opportunities in Spartanburg. The chamber surveyed 3,180 people, asking if they felt included in the Spartanburg community. The results showed that 58 percent of white people answered yes, while only 26 percent of non-white people answered yes, Smith said.
“When we ask businesses, ‘What issues do we need to be working on?’ talent always comes to the top of the list,” he said. “In order to address our talent issues, we took a look at best practices.”
The first piece of that puzzle is hiring a director of talent and economic inclusion whose priority will be to focus on bringing the initiative to life, said Karen Knuckles, owner of Express Employment Professionals.
″(The person in) this position will wake up every day thinking about the talent and inclusion issues that face our business community,” she said. “Thanks to our committed partners, we are able to not only hire this individual, but provide a programming budget to begin this work.”
Knuckles said the chamber is actively interviewing candidates for the position.
The partners involved in funding the position are OneSpartanburg, Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System, the City of Spartanburg, the Spartanburg County Foundation, BMW Manufacturing Co., Milliken & Co. and Draexlmaier Automotive of America.
Knuckles said the overarching goal of the initiative is to change the way people perceive Spartanburg, which will help to attract and retain professionals in the city. The Pipeline Project is how the chamber wants to make that happen.
That project is described as a community leadership diversity project that will promote broader and more diverse membership on area boards in order to create new champions for Spartanburg County and to help reflect its diversity.
“The project will identify rising stars, channel them through Spartanburg’s leadership development programs and create a searchable database of trained community leaders,” she said. “The need for this project is paramount in engaging and retaining diverse talent.”
To help fund that effort, the Duke Energy Foundation awarded the chamber a $50,000 grant on Tuesday.
Additionally, the chamber is working to give more business professionals access to the resources and relationships it offers, Knuckles said. To ensure more businesses are able to take advantage of these opportunities, the chamber has created an Economic Empowerment Fund to help defray the cost of membership, she said.
“This fund is supported by chamber members’ 110 percent contributions,” Knuckles said. “When chamber members go above and beyond, they are ensuring a new business gains new access to all of our community’s opportunities.”