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Chamber Strives to be Center of World-Class Business, Welcoming Communities and Opportunities for All

Posted by: Justin Freeman on Wednesday, September 2, 2020

The Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce has a vision to be the center of world-class business, welcoming communities, and opportunities for all. This drives the mission work we do which includes championing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives that are sources of both competitive advantage for business and sustainable success for the future of our community. As our nation undertakes a necessary conservation about inequality and racism, we are listening thoughtfully and leading solutions locally to help ensure all people of color have greater opportunities to succeed.

Building Bridges to Connect our Community
The Chamber has a responsibility to work with community leaders towards the betterment of all in our community. While we are a business-centric organization, we understand that it’s the people of our community who run, manage, and work for these businesses. It is our duty to create a world class place for them to live, work, and play. We recognize that our membership needs to be reflective of the communities we serve. Our programs need to be available to and benefit all members of our community. Our influence needs to be used to create a welcoming and cohesive environment for residents and visitors alike. We are catalysts of community and business growth and our past, present, and future actions have lasting consequences. Our communities are rapidly changing and growing more diverse and instead of building walls between communities, cultures, and lifestyles, we instead are choosing to build bridges to connect us all into one cohesive community.

Impacting Future Business and Community Leaders
Being on the forefront of regional leadership development and DEI initiatives the Chamber is uniquely positioned to impact current and future business and community leaders. We choose to use our influence in this arena to build up and train leaders from all walks of life that reflect the communities we serve. Our focus is to ensure that a program’s leadership team, participants, and speakers are not only intentional about integrating diversity and inclusion into their programs and daily lives, but also that their make-up represents the various cultures and lifestyles within our region.

Elevating Voices of the Minority Community | #ListenNWA Campaign
Northwest Arkansas Emerging Leaders, a leadership development program of the Chamber used their influence and network to highlight and elevate the voices of our minority community members this summer. #ListenNWA was a social media campaign designed to raise awareness and shed light on the minority community’s stories and experiences here in Northwest Arkansas and put faces to these people.

Hearing these stories from our friends, neighbors, and colleagues sparked some productive dialogue within our community and those conversations are laying the groundwork for positive change for Northwest Arkansas. The campaign showed that although we all may not look the same on the outside, inside we are similar and have similar interests and experiences that make us who we are. It gave us the opportunity to look past our unconscious biases and see individuals as people and not just associate that person with a certain group of people that we already have a stereotype built up in our head. You can check out the campaign by visiting the NWA Emerging Leaders Facebook or Instagram pages.

Convening the Minority Community to Listen | Wellness Checks
In our roles as conveners of the community and catalysts for change the Chamber hosted this summer multiple community Wellness Checks. These forums provided the minority community another opportunity to share their experiences here in Northwest Arkansas but took it a step further. We also asked them to give us ideas and solutions on how we can help communities bridge the gaps and create a city and region that everyone feels safe and welcomed.

The biggest theme that came from these conversations is that we need to be more intentional about our leadership roles and positions. We need to have more business and community leaders that reflect the community. We need more diversity in thought and ideas to ensure that we are thinking of all members’ needs in the community. These Wellness Checks brought together members from all underserved communities in Rogers, Lowell, and Northwest Arkansas as part of our work to bridge gaps by providing connection and engagement in our area. We will continue listening to help us become more inclusive for everyone who lives and works in the region.

Helping Businesses of All Sizes | DEI Tools and Resources
Knowledge and skills are sources of competitive advantage for businesses and have been identified as important elements to the success and sustainability of communities in the future. While larger corporations in Northwest Arkansas have the breadth of human and financial resources to leverage this DEI competitive advantage, most small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) lack the means necessary to capitalize on these assets. This is true even when diversity is an integral part of the customer base, employee pool and corporate values. Seeking to address these issues, the Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce launched the Lens Series.

Bringing Strategic Focus to DEI | The Lens Series
The Lens Series focuses on providing training and strategies to help level the playing field for SMBs regarding access to strategic and innovative DEI information and leadership support. It serves the growing and diverse small business needs of the region. The Lens Series is designed to equip small business leaders with DEI principles to address relevant organizational challenges, apply these principles to business issues, and make their business more welcoming to their employees and customers. The focus is entirely on the small business community and approaches DEI from a business standpoint

Growing Minority Businesses | Entrepreneurial Resources
As a business-centric organization, the Chamber is uniquely equipped to address the growing number of minority businesses owners and entrepreneurs in our area. There are plentiful resources in our area for businesses to start, grow, and succeed, but far too many are only offered in English and marketed inadequately to our minority communities.

The Chamber welcomes and embraces members from all backgrounds and our business resources and outreach reflect this. Increased offerings of bi-lingual materials and trainings provided in 2020 and 2021 will help educate and grow minority owned businesses in our region. Renewed focus on engaging minority business owners will increase Chamber membership to ensure that our minority business community has representation and access to all the Chamber has to offer. We will connect our business community by providing networking opportunities, promoting minority businesses, and increasing the overall number of minority owned businesses in the region.

Advancing DEI in our Region and State | Highlights
The City of Rogers is a leader in our region and state for DEI initiatives. Our City and Chamber have been working together for many years to advance our efforts. Together, we have convened and listened to our community. We have been intentional to make Rogers a great city to live, work and play for all. We understand there is a lot more work ahead of us. Below are some highlights of our actions and organizations we are involved.

•We are involved with the Engage NWA Steering Committee. As a convener and connector for leaders in business, government, and the community, this organization provides a platform to demonstrate shared values, practical strategies for engagement, and positive results around efforts to build an inclusive region.

•We are members of the COVID-19 LatinX Stakeholder Outreach with the Arkansas Health Department. The organization is tasked by Governor Asa Hutchinson to help find creative ways to fight the pandemic and the spread of the virus among the LatinX community.

•The Chamber’s staff member, Geovanny Sarmiento, was appointed by Governor to the Advance the State of Law Enforcement Task Force for the State of Arkansas. It is tasked with reviewing the adequacy of law enforcement training, policy, and operations, specifically related to cultural, racial, and community relations; studying and analyzing the processes for accountability, discipline, removal, and decertification of officers who do not meet standards, including an evaluation for the creation and implementation of a statewide, public database of complaints and resolutions concerning law enforcement officers; studying and analyzing the standards, requirements, and obstacles for recruitment, hiring, and retention of law enforcement officers, including resiliency programs, educational opportunities, and compensation and benefit packages available to law enforcement officers; recommending how to enhance trust between law enforcement and communities; recommending improvements or changes needed to enhance the profession of law enforcement to ensure compliance with standards.

•Geovanny also represented the City of Rogers in the Governor’s Covid-19 LatinX NWA leadership meeting.

•We are collaborating with Collaborators with True NWA; TRUE Northwest Arkansas is a three-year pilot initiative to Train, Report, Uplift, and Engage our community towards diversity and inclusion, with the support of the Walmart Foundation and Walton Family Foundation

•In conjunction with National Hispanic Heritage Month, Celebrate Diversity is the theme for the September and October Art on the Bricks VIRTUAL Art Walk, September 15 – October 15, 2020. Artists are invited to submit photos, videos and audio files of their visual or performance art to be showcased on Facebook, YouTube and other social media platforms. Art plays an important role in reflecting and influencing the culture of our community. As the region experiences rapid demographic changes, we are privileged to become acquainted with new friends and neighbors who bring with them a wide variety of cultures and influences, experiences and heritage from across the globe. The Celebrate Diversity virtual exhibit seeks to serve as a reflection of our culture as we support artists and the creative economy in Northwest Arkansas.

Our community is diverse, and it is vital that the differences between our various cultures and lifestyles be recognized and embraced to bring us all closer together. The Chamber is building bridges to connect our community and achieve our vision to be a welcoming community for all.

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