RACINE — Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes was welcomed with a standing ovation on Friday at the first “after hours” networking event hosted by the African American Chamber of Commerce Greater Racine at the Racine Campus of Gateway Technical College.
The chamber was created in December 2018 with the goal of spurring economic development and advocating for minority business.
GeorgAnn Stinson, chamber president, said in order to improve the economic situation of those in the black community it “is going to take collaborative action for all of us.
“We want to spur economic growth for the community,” Stinson said. “It takes the whole community, not just a part of us, the whole community. We don’t want to feel like we’re working in silos, working by ourselves.”
Roughly 80 people were in attendance to network with each other and establish business relationships.
Having spent the early part of the day at the Ascension Medical Center groundbreaking ceremony in Mount Pleasant, Barnes said there are quite a few developments happening in the area.
“It’s important to make sure that we have equity in those projects,” Barnes said. “That is the focus of my office as lieutenant governor.”
While many in minority and poor communities around the state have struggled, Barnes said it is because past leaders have not been “willing to admit that there is a serious problem here in the State of Wisconsin.”
“The middle class is almost non-existent for people of color, for black people, in the State of Wisconsin,” Barnes said. “We have to be really serious when we talk about societal issues.”
The biggest development in the whole state is in Racine County — the Foxconn Technology Group manufacturing campus in Mount Pleasant.
During the 2018 campaign, Barnes and now-Gov. Tony Evers were critical of the project.
Barnes said he would have liked to see more provisions in the deal for minority-owned businesses, but added that the Evers administration is communicating with Foxconn to make sure the company “lives up to what they say they’re going to do.”
“We have to make sure that we are reviewing this to make sure people are not being taken even more advantage of than they already are with a project like this,” Barnes said. “This has to work. There is already too much skin in the game right now.”
According to Barnes, the state spends about $12 billion on energy from coal and natural gas, and he added the state should invest more in renewable energy.
“There is no coal under our feet or in our hills, there is no natural gas, there is no oil under our feet as well,” Barnes said. “We can spend that $12 billion much more effectively generating our own energy in the State of Wisconsin putting our own people back to work.”
Barnes also said that the minimum wage should be increased.
Stinson said having Barnes at the event means “support from the state.”
“It means that they’re supporting what we’re trying to do,” Stinson said. “I am very happy that we have the new governor and lieutenant governor on board with us and I think this is absolutely wonderful that he took his time out today to come and talk with us.”
Should have happened ‘long time ago’
Stinson said the organization plans to host quarterly networking events along with workshops, and business development and training events.
“We’re not trying to reduplicate anything that’s going on in the Racine area already, we’re trying to add to it,” Stinson said.
Cortney Marshall, who works in real estate with Berkshire Hathaway enjoyed the event.
“It should have happened a long time ago,” Marshall said. “I’ve been to a lot of chamber events, you don’t see too many minorities there so to have a group like this one is good because when I go to those events I’m pretty much the only (minority) in there.”
April Harris, a Racine artist who owns Art By April, said this type of group “will bring a change to the community.”
“We need to come together and get to know each other better,” Harris said.
George Nicks, president of Racine Branch of the NAACP, said he hopes the “unity that’s here tonight continues” and that the organization encourages young people to become business owners “and they can leave a legacy for their kids and grandkids.”
“In order to do business, the networking is very, very important,” Nicks said. “We need to do this to encourage our young black people to do business … that’s where you better yourself, when you have your own business.”
“The middle class is almost non-existent for people of color, for black people, in the State of Wisconsin. We have to be really serious when we talk about societal issues.” Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes