Long known for his advocacy for local minority-owned businesses, Curtiss Harris has teamed up with his daughter, Lynn Harris Farmer, business consultant and former Fortune 500 marketing executive, to launch a digital directory to link consumers to black-owned businesses in the Milwaukee area.
Milwaukee Black Business made its debut in March as the city’s premiere online directory for finding, celebrating and supporting black-owned businesses in the Milwaukee area. The site, mkeblackbusiness.com, aims to raise the profile of talented black entrepreneurs in Milwaukee in an effort to promote economic empowerment within the African American community, which in turn, helps the overall economy.
While African Americans make up nearly half of Milwaukee’s population, only 22% own and operate businesses, according to the latest Census data. One of the biggest barriers to black business growth in Milwaukee is overcoming the perception that black-owned businesses simply don’t exist, says Harris, president of Milwaukee Black Business, who made his mark coordinating minority participation on major Wisconsin projects such as Miller Park and Camp Randall in Madison.
“If African American businesses in Milwaukee are not properly marketing themselves to the community, neither the business owners nor their target consumers will benefit,” said Harris, a private business consultant and former interim executive director of the African American Chamber of Commerce of Wisconsin. “It’s a loss on both ends if goods and services are not being exchanged.”
Milwaukee Black Business provides consumers with key information on a wide range of black-owned businesses in metro Milwaukee, including contact info, maps, photos, events and in-depth profiles. The site also gives business owners a new platform for advertising and networking. Business owners can list their businesses for free and purchase additional features and promotions. Users can create profiles to rate and review businesses.
Harris Farmer, CEO and chief marketing officer (CMO) for Milwaukee Black Business, believes the new website will change the perception of black-owned businesses in Milwaukee and raise awareness of the breadth of all Milwaukee has to offer.
“This is taking an old idea of a business directory and using new and modern tools to reach consumers,” said Harris Farmer, a former merchandiser and marketer for such Fortune 500 companies as Target, JC Penney and Neiman Marcus. “We want to be accessible to the next generation of consumers through all the technology that’s available with a heavy emphasis on social media.”
Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce President Tim Sheehy is optimistic about the site’s potential to improve prosperity in Milwaukee.
“A vibrant African-American business community is critical to improving Milwaukee’s prosperity,” Sheehy said. “New tools to help connect, showcase, and grow these important businesses will pay dividends to this community.”
What’s more, Milwaukee Black Business will enhance the work of local business development organizations like the African American Chamber of Commerce of Wisconsin. Milwaukee Black Business will publicize Chamber events.
“With this new website/firm also being a member of the African American Chamber of Commerce, we look forward to strategically working together to continue to increase visibility and support to our business owners and entrepreneurs,” said Dr. Eve Hall, president/CEO of the African American Chamber.
The father-daughter duo hopes their new online directory will inspire black business owners and the city’s consumers to support one another by growing wealth together.
“If you don’t control some of the elements of wealth creation, you don’t control your destiny,” said Harris who has served the black business community in Milwaukee for more than 40 years. “Ensuring that money is flowing into your black business is the greatest empowerment your community can receive.”
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