2008-05-21 Grand Rapids Press Economic realities change attitudes.

Economic realities change attitudes
Grand Rapids Press

Holland-The growing buying power, population and business influence of minorities in the U.S. in the next 40 years will have a greater impact on eliminating racism in this country than any laws or discrimination awareness programs can achieve.

That was the message of former Hispanic Chamber of commerce President George Herrera to 500 people attending the Lakeshore Summit on Racism at Hope College on Tuesday. Herrera said the estimated buying power of this country’s black and Hispanic population is $1 trillion annually.

On top of that, there are 4 million minority-owned businesses with $668 billion in sales in the U.S. In Michigan, the numbers are 4,000 minority-owned businesses with $4 billion in sales. “its numbers like those that are opening the eyes and ears of American corporations to the fact that the market economy is changing, and they should be listening,” said Herrera, the conference’s key-note luncheon speaker.

“Economic change leads to political change, and we’re seeing that right now with African-American presidential candidate Barack Obama drawing a crowd of 75,000 people to a campaign rally in Oregon, where there are very few minorities,” said Herrera, president and ECO of the New York-based Herrera-Christian Group management consulting firm.

In the two years since the last Lakeshore Summit on Racism, the conference has moved from the impact of racism on individuals and the community to the negative economic impact racism has on West Michigan and the state.

Kenyatta Brame, senior vice president of Cascade Engineering, said his company works actively to attract talented minorities to the company but finds it difficult sometimes to bring in qualified candidates because the state and community is viewed as not welcoming. “They look at Michigan’s vote on Proposition 2, which eliminates affirmative action, and say this state doesn’t sound very minority-friendly,” Brame said.

He noted that even when talented blacks and Hispanics come to work, they don’t stay long because of discrimination and often move on to more minority-friendly states. “The Michigan economy is not in great shape, and we’re chasing away people who could help us grow economically,” Brame said.

Holland resident Anna DeHaan said she wanted to attend the summit after going through the Holland Chamber of Commerce Institute on Healing Racism. “I would like to think that people would want to discourage racism because it is morally wrong, but I’m starting to see that economics will eventually be the driving force in change,” she said.