By Pascale Mondesir
A group of Haitian professionals decided to band together and provide support and resources to the Haitian business community in Southwest Florida
A group of Haitian leaders of organizations, business men and women, finance professionals, entrepreneurs and more have gathered together to launch the United Haitian American Chamber of Commerce of Southwest Florida (UHACCSWFL). Its goal is to primarily promote economic growth and prosperity in Haitian communities in Florida and beyond, according to the group, by serving as an economic, social and educational development for its members and other local business owners.
The UHACCSWFL officially launched on Aug. 29 at Peyko Venue in Fort Myers, Florida, where new and potential members mingled with the board of directors and prominent Fort Myers leaders such as the Mayor of Fort Myers, Randall Henderson, who was also in attendance. There they networked with other business-minded professionals as they began this new network. The Haitian Times spoke with a few board members about the ideas behind the venture and what members and the community can expect from the chamber.
Why did you feel the chamber of commerce was needed?
ANSWERED BY: ROSMY LOUIS, FOUNDER
LOUIS: Ever since I moved to SWFL from Haiti in 2004, I noticed something was missing in the Haitian-American businesses. Many of us millennials were not satisfied with the customer service we received when doing business with our very own community businesses. I said, instead of criticizing it, why not create a support and resource center where we could get together to brainstorm and come up with ideas that would not only help us provide a better service and product experience to the Haitian community, but also become well equipped to serve other communities that would want to do business with us. When I shared that vision with our now Chairman Dan Shoemaker, he was so thrilled and ready to contribute his expertise obtained from working with Haitians in the United States and in Haiti.
It wasn’t difficult at all to find like minded individuals because the need was so great. What was a little bit challenging was finding a suitable location that was available after hours to meet with potential board members after work. We’ve had countless meetings at local libraries & coffee shops. I remember one day an institution was about to close and we weren’t even halfway through our board formation meeting; that day we had to finish the meeting outside under a tree. With a positive attitude and team efforts It took us more than a year to put all the pieces of the puzzle together. Although it’s still a work in progress, I am very convinced that the Chamber is already making a huge impact in the community. I credit the whole team for such an amazing movement. As Margaret Mead said “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
What specific type of work or goals are you envisioning for the Chamber?
ANSWERED BY: DAN SHOEMAKER, BOARD CHAIRMAN
SHOEMAKER: The Chamber is designed to help Haitian-American businesses and businessmen integrate into the community in ways that will enhance their profitability. We want to help them appeal to a more diverse customer base — all Americans and not just Haitians. We also desire to enable better networking with more diverse businesses for Haitian American businesses. The more profitable, professional, and productive businesses can be, it will enable Haitian Americans to become more influential in their community.
What are some of the ways you guys are getting the word out about the organization?
ANSWERED BY: VLADIMY BELLEFLEUR, PUBLIC RELATIONS CHAIR
BELLEFLEUR: In addition to social media marketing, we are making every effort to reach out to the Southwest Florida community. Whether it is through live interviews with local TV, radio personalities or local news papers. Our ground game includes visiting local communities and businesses and actively speaking with the business professionals about their goals and challenges. We have dedicated the third Thursday of every month as our Businesses After Hour event to feature a topic of interest in the world of business. Our next event is a panel discussion about the state of the Haitian community in SWFL.
How will raising the profile of Haitian businesses translate directly or indirectly to a prosperous Haitian community?
ANSWERED BY KEN BEAUVAIS, BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT CHAIR
BEAUVAIS: This is an interesting but valid question. Developing the Haitian businesses and entrepreneurs in Southwest Florida is something that the chamber wanted to do intentionally from the beginning. It is the focal point of the chamber. The goal of raising the profile of the Haitian businesses is to directly impact the Haitian community economically, socially, culturally and mentally. The better the restaurant, bakery, barbershop, lawyer, doctor, consultant, does in his/her business, the more it will translate into job creation, purchasing power, investments and even charity efforts in the Haitian community. Example: If we coach a restaurant to have their full menu during his/her entire business hours, basically training them how to control supply in a way that drives demand. This will lead to them having the ability to either expand, open other locations, reduce overhead cost, get better margins or all of the above. Arguably, what it does indirectly is more rewarding than directly. Yes, the business owner(s) gets better housing, motivation and self-respect, however, what it does for the people that look like them and talk like them, is give them the hope of prosperity. The reality is that whether you are an adult or a child, life secretly pushes you to achieve your goals when you see that representation in your community. United We Rise.
What are some challenges that you think you will need to overcome in the beginning to get the ball rolling? What successes or progress have you seen so far?
LOUIS: I believe reluctance to embrace change is a common barrier to making progress in business as well as the foresight to see the value of hearing consumers, reinvesting into our businesses to make necessary improvements to retain and attract new business.
In the way of progress, we were pleased to know that a young local professional was able to find helpful information on the business resource documents located on our website to properly start his business.
A local high school with a large population of Haitian-American students recently reached out to us to organize a visit to one of our networking and education workshops, exposing the younger generation to successful Haitian-American businesses.
Special thanks to the City of Fort Myers’ Mayor for attending our recent launch and the Lee County Sheriff’s office for sending one of their commanders as well as countless diverse community leaders that took their time to come celebrate that moment with us. Last but certainly not least the entire board has been on one accord making this a reality and the community fully embraces it.