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Communities of color prepare for business participation during Milwaukee’s national spotlight

It is more than a year away, but Milwaukee is preparing for perhaps the biggest party it has ever thrown.

More than 50,000 visitors are expected to attend the Democratic National Convention at the Fiserv Forum from July 13 to 16, 2020, bringing with them an estimated $200 million in convention dollars.

And Milwaukee’s minority business leaders are making sure their communities will not be left out.

Thirty community members attended a workshop this week sponsored jointly by the Hmong Wisconsin Chamber of Commerce and the American Indian Chamber of Commerce on how to prepare for the city’s moment in the national spotlight.

“We want to take full advantage of the DNC coming here next year,” said May Yer Thao, executive director at the Hmong Wisconsin Chamber of Commerce. Milwaukee has the third-largest Hmong community in the U.S., behind California and Minnesota.

With most of the community’s businesses located on the Northwest Side, Thao said, her organization is looking for ways to entice visitors from downtown to attractions such as the Asian Market Phongsavan, 6300 N. 76th St.

Ossie Kendrix, who leads the African American Chamber of Commerce of Wisconsin also envisions offering a series of sessions to help business owners get their piece of the convention dollars.

Shifting the narrative

Others see the convention as a chance to influence national discussion. Denise Thomas, owner of The Effective Communication Coach, LLC, said the DNC offers African-Americans the chance to shift “the negative mindset that Milwaukee is a terrible place for black people to live.”

Thomas, who has held corporate executive positions at MillerCoors and several other large companies, noted that across the U.S., there is “inequality across education, across mass incarceration, across workforce development” that need to be addressed.

Milwaukee’s African-American community needs to “take advantage of having an audience that will be in Milwaukee for at least two weeks, who are the most influential decision makers in our government, both African-American and non-African-American,” she said.

Thomas would like to see the community engage the political leaders socially — through conversations, through panels, through dinners, through community forums — to build “interest and respect for our community.”

There is one group already getting a preview of how busy next year will be. Nelson Soler, president of the Latino Chamber of Commerce of SE Wisconsin Inc. and CEO of the Multicultural Entrepreneurial Institute Inc. has his hands full with a more immediate gathering.

The League of United Latin American Citizens, the largest and oldest Hispanic organization in the United States, is holding its 90th annual national convention in Milwaukee during July. That convention is expected to draw 17,000 to 20,000 people over five days.

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Milwaukee NNS

NNS covers stories that are important to the people who live, work and serve in city neighborhoods, on topics such as education, public safety, economic development, health and wellness, environment, recreation, employment, youth development and housing.

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