‘More Recognition And Inclusion’: Sumter Black Chamber Of Commerce Is Officially Launching After Three-Year Pilot Program

The Sumter Black Chamber of Commerce has been in a pilot stage since starting in 2020. Now, the program’s chapter says it’s ready to officially launch.

SUMTER, S.C. — Membership applications are open to help Black and minority business owners in Sumter County. The Sumter Black Chamber of Commerce has officially launched after its three year pilot program. 

“Running your own business, it’s not…it’s not easy,” life insurance agent Wilson Akanonu says about the lesson he learned after starting his business.

But for entrepreneurs like Elisha Clark, there are perks.

“I do not like to clock in. I like the freedom. I like to be able to do things with my children,” Clark shares. “And I found in traditional employment that I don’t have time to do the things I want to do after work and all day. So I like the freedom of being able to somewhat make my own hours.”

It’s why Clark opened Excel Sumter, a real estate office, with her husband. Quickly after opening, Clark tells me she joined the Sumter Black Chamber of Commerce.

“We focus and we promote on Black- and brown-owned businesses here in the area. But we are inclusive, you know?” Clark explains. “Anyone can become a member of the Sumter Black Chamber of Commerce. I think it’s more so just about representation, which I do feel, in some ways, the Black and brown communities have not necessarily had up to this point. So we hope to change that just a little bit more recognition and inclusion.”

It’s led by CEO and president Elayne Brunson.

“I feel that having a resource structure specifically for minority-owned businesses helps open the door for larger corporations, more jobs, workforce development and more projects that can help improve the entire Sumter community,” Brunson says. “A lot of people may not have realized since 2020 we were in a pilot phase just doing some research and doing a few programs just to see would it work in the area? And so now that we’ve been successful, had a few years doing programs, we felt it was the time to launch and start accepting new members.”

Brunson tells me she realized the need for a program after she lived in south Florida and saw how much help was open to business there.

“And so when I came home I realized that nothing like that had already existed and so I just felt that it was important to fill a void,” Brunson explains.

“Elayne’s working on a lot. So I look forward to what the future holds. Right now, we’re in a rebuilding period. So I’m extremely excited about what’s ahead of us,” Clark adds. “Awareness. I think that’s the biggest thing. Let people know that we’re all here, let other business owners know that we’re here. Just getting ourselves out there I think is the biggest thing.”

Right now, the focus is raising that awareness while increasing membership, building on the 42 members that have been a part of the program in its pilot stage.

“I feel like now is a good time just because we’re having an increased participation from the community. When we’re having our annual survey, more and more folks are taking the survey. We’ve seen an increase in the number at our procurement program,” Brunson explains. “The phone is ringing more and people are asking how they can get involved. People are asking about volunteering.”

The next project the chamber is working on is its third annual procurement program to help businesses learn about government contracting and financial resources coming up in November.

For Akanonu, “network is your net worth.”

“Knowledge now is the new superpower,” Akanonu believes, citing the value of learning from other people. “We’re all coming in. We all have different products, different backgrounds. And one of the things that that spreads is like, you know, us helping each other grow because I might have something that somebody else might need, and someone can meet me with something that they have, but I don’t need that right now. But because of my community, I can find somebody else and say, ‘Hey, you want ABC? I know someone that offers that.’ So it’s a way of, like, you know, helping each other grow, growing, business-wise.”

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