Council to consider fair funding levels for minority chambers of commerce

Thursday, March 17, 2022 by Chad Swiatecki

The city appears to have reached an agreement with four niche chambers of commerce to more evenly distribute each of their annual funding allocations from the city budget.

Discussions have been going on for years about how to “normalize” city funding for the LGBT Chamber of Austin, Asian Chamber of Greater Austin, Black Chamber of Greater Austin, and Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Greater Austin. , as there was no data-driven approach to defining funding. for each group. Instead, for years, funding was established on the basis of informal meetings with city council members, resulting in amounts from some groups varying widely from year to year.

A note released on Tuesday sets out the annual funding recommendations for each group, as well as how they should cooperate in the Regional Economic Development (REED) plan which will focus on marketing the city’s diversity, creating a plan based on the equity for regional economic development and attracting businesses owned by ethnic and social minorities.

Council will consider a resolution next week that would allocate $252,882 to the Hispanic Chamber of Greater Austin, $230,797 to the Black Chamber of Greater Austin, $202,500 to the Asian Chamber of Greater Austin and $153,750 to the LGBT Chamber from Austin.

The four separate contracts would require the groups to work together on regional economic development goals, with the memo saying that once the agreements are reached, “no further updates to the equity model will be necessary.”

Reached by text message, Tina Cannon, president and CEO of the Austin LGBT Chamber, said the resolution and new contracts would allow the groups to move forward with several years of collective work.

“The minority chambers have been working together informally for years. This new contract allows us to formally work together on a regional equitable economic development plan to move all of our communities forward.

A 2019 report prepared with external consultant Saber Development provided recommendations for addressing equity for the four chambers as well as other niche chambers funded in part by the city. The report also suggested a one-year extension of then-current funding levels and, the following year, an increase in the budgets of the Hispanic and Black chambers while decreasing the budgets of the Asian and LGBT chambers.

In December 2020, the Board opted instead to approve the two budget increases while maintaining funding for the Asian and LGBT chambers at the existing allocation. Council never officially adopted the report despite support from city staff. Last year, the Board asked the chambers “to consider a way forward for how we fund and what we expect from the chambers to advance economic opportunity in Austin.” The City Manager is responsible for connecting to this process as appropriate, and in the absence of meaningful progress, presenting the base funding model to Council for approval in November 2021.”

Although city funding represents only a portion of the respective chambers’ total budgets, varying funding levels have made it difficult for their leaders to reliably plan their available funds and programs from year to year. .

Recognizing this difficulty and the need to focus on issues related to equity, the city’s Economic Prosperity Commission in 2017 asked the Department of Economic Development to create a transparent matrix to determine funding levels for the four chambers. .

At the time, Cannon said the time was right for the city to recognize the importance of niche chambers in building the city’s diversity and attracting new business.

“Over the years they’ve tried to standardize how their funding is determined because they’re so dependent on what the city provides,” she said. “These are small groups working to get the job done, and they play a vital role because when a company comes to talk to us about retention and expansion, there isn’t a single company that doesn’t ask about diversity in the community.”

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