Baton Rouge, La. (June 5, 2020) – The work of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber (BRAC) is reliant on partnership and collaboration with leaders and organizations across the Capital Region. Our staff and board members have taken the time to collectively reflect on an actionable response to the murder of George Floyd, and the underlying systemic and institutional racism that led to it. As a result, BRAC today released the following statement:
It’s of paramount importance that the Baton Rouge Area business community not only recognizes but internalizes the profound sadness, fear, and horror inflicted on Black colleagues, employees, friends, and families throughout our region, resulting from the senseless murder of George Floyd. The sheer prevalence of these incidents, especially one depicting the stark contrast of innocence met with brutality, understandably instills unspeakable worry each time a loved one steps out the door.
This is no way for people to live, nor remotely the way for a region to expect to flourish economically, and for these reasons we call upon the Baton Rouge Area business community to stand together and say, with one voice: enough.
We have a responsibility to express solidarity that Black lives matter, to commit to doing more to understand and remove systemic barriers and institutional racism, and to help each other understand what has brought us to this moment.
The stark disparities between Black and White residents in the Capital Region prior to COVID-19 have only been amplified, and have manifested into a double-hit for the Black community: COVID-19’s health impacts are much worse, and the economic impacts are expected to be worse as well, because of issues like lack of access to capital, the concentration of Black Louisianans in the service industries, and education attainment gaps.
During the process to develop BRAC’s new five-year strategic plan, halted by the onset of COVID-19, we compiled statistics benchmarking the Capital Region against some 40 peer metropolitan areas. The results of this research, while not surprising, were jarring. Across a broad swath of indicators measuring a region’s relative strength for economic inclusion, broken down by race – poverty rate; household income; educational attainment; and workers in management positions – the Baton Rouge Area performs in or very near the bottom half of every list.
We know these disparities have a direct correlation with economic performance across the board. Regions that score high on measures of inclusivity also have stronger overall economic growth, creating a virtuous cycle. For regions that score low, like ours, the cycle just spins its wheels. And as other regions race ahead, if we’re not moving forward, we are actually falling behind.
This data underscores that while the work of BRAC’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee – including advocating for reforms in criminal justice and police practices; advocating for investment and economic development in disinvested communities; championing diversity and inclusion in the workplace; expanding minority business development and wealth creation through programs like the Baton Rouge Procurement Opportunity Partnership – is important and demonstrates progress, it is still not enough.
Simply put, BRAC is pledging sustained and specific action. On the broadest level, although COVID-19 disrupted our work toward a new, fully developed five-year strategic plan, the research alone makes clear that addressing racial disparities and fostering a more inclusive economy must become central to what we do, and interwoven into every program and initiative that we pursue. In addition, BRAC will act by:
- Calling on not only our existing Baton Rouge Procurement Opportunity Partnership partners, but all companies in the region to be more intentional about offering equitable opportunities for Black-owned suppliers.
- Pledging to connect Black-owned business in metro Baton Rouge to banking or credit partners to assist them with their application for a forgivable Paycheck Protection Program loan. No Black-owned business in Baton Rouge should go out of business for lack of access to this financial lifeline.
- Urging more businesses and business leaders to support the creation of diversity committees within their own businesses.
- Committing to cost share Dialogue on Race tuition with the first 20 businesses who reach out to us, and to pursue those dialogues within our own organization.
- Engaging with the young people who have taken a leading role in organizing local protests and discussing with them issue areas like law enforcement reforms and strategies to support reinvestment in disinvested communities.
- Championing and supporting people’s opportunities to serve as direct change agents themselves – filling out the Census, registering to vote and voting, reading the literature of racial injustice, and participating in our Diversity and Inclusion Committee.
As we continue to work toward our vision for the Baton Rouge Area to be one of the leading economies and premier business locations in the country, we invite all to lend their voice and service in creating the truly inclusive economy and community that Baton Rouge deserves.
About the Baton Rouge Area Chamber
The Baton Rouge Area Chamber (BRAC) leads economic development in the nine-parish Baton Rouge Area, working to grow jobs and wealth and to improve the business climate and competitiveness in the region. Today, BRAC investors include more than 1,500 small businesses, mid-sized firms, large industry and entrepreneurial startups, as well as individuals and organizations that support business and economic development. In this capacity, BRAC serves as the voice of the business community, providing knowledge, access, services and advocacy. More information is available at brac.org.