Minority chamber on the move in Southern Md.
CEO says membership requires involvement in ‘working’ chamber
The Southern Maryland Black Chamber of Commerce changed its name last April to the Southern Maryland Minority Chamber of Commerce to better reflect the organization’s purpose.
“We changed it to ‘minority’ because not all our members are black,” said Doris Cammack-Spencer, the business group’s president and chief executive officer.
Cammack-Spencer, who is from Chesapeake Beach, said the organization started as a consortium of African American community organizations that spun off what they realized was needed: a black chamber of commerce.
“Once we formed, it became clear that we needed a black chamber down here,” she said before a networking mixer last week at the Waldorf West Library. “We formed the black chamber, and we’ve been moving ever since.”
The chamber represents 80 businesses and nonprofits in the three Southern Maryland counties — Calvert, Charles and St. Mary’s — as well as southern Prince George’s County. A number of its members are also members of chambers of commerce in their respective counties. In Charles, minority chamber member John Huggins of Indian Head sits on the Charles Coun- ty Chamber of Commerce’s Militar y Alliance Council.
“We’re a chamber but we don’t believe in duplication, we believe in collaboration,” Cammack-Spencer said. “We partner with the other chambers, with the economic development organizations. The thing that we do that’s different is we are regional, we cover Charles, Calvert, St. Mary’s and southern Prince George’s.”
She said the chamber’s focus tends toward Maryland policy and legislation that “we feel is important for minority businesses.”
Government and business procurement has been high on the list of priorities. Cammack-Spencer said Gov. Larry Hogan (R) formed a procurement commission last year and recently released a report favorable to prioritizing minority-owned businesses in procurement contracting. On the business side, she said she’s been working with MGM Resorts International to help the company fulfill its desire for minority-owned business to supply ser vices and goods. Representatives from MGM were at the mixer to meet potential business partners.
“One of the big issues, always, is financing for minority businesses — trying to get banks to do more, but certainly making sure that we are aware of funds that are available,” Cammack-Spencer said.
She said the group is also interested in the energy sector with expansions and projects under way with Dominion Energy — especially its Cove Point LNG facility — Washington Gas, the gas-fired electric generation plants under construction in Charles and Prince George’s counties, and the ongoing expansion of solar energy in Southern Maryland.
“We’re keeping energy as one of our primary projects this year, too,” she said. “There’s a lot going on in the area: solar, Dominion Cove Point, which we support and is a member of our board, as is Washington Gas.”
She told the crowd at the mixer that a “clean energy bill” was vetoed by the governor last year, and she hopes the legisla- ture will override that veto this session. The bill calls for Maryland to get 25 percent of its energy from renewable sources such as wind and solar by 2020, up from the previous target of 20 percent by 2022.
The bill also authorizes the use of the Strategic Energy Investment Fund “to provide funding for access to capital for small, minority, and wom- en-owned businesses in the ‘clean energy industry,’” according to the leg- islature’s website. SEIF funding can also be used “to benefit small, minority, and women-owned businesses in the clean energy industry.”
The House of Delegates overrode the veto on Tuesday and the Senate, which passed the bill with a veto-proof majority last year, overrode it on Thursday, making it law.
“It’s important because the bill provides funding for training and grants for minority businesses,” she said.
Stewart Cumbo, a longtime town councilman in Chesapeake Beach, said he was picking up an application that night to join. Although his ice cream parlor business has long since closed, he said he still feels the need to support minority businesses directly. He also sits on the board of the NAACP in Calvert County.
“I think the chamber is good, and I think it’s good to promote minority businesses,” Cumbo said. “I’d like to do everything I can to help minority businesses and move forward issues of minorities in general.”
Brian Klaas of Nanjemoy and current president of the Charles chamber’s Militar y Alliance Council said all of the chambers in Southern Maryland need to work together to keep and grow regional businesses, and support the military bases at Indian Head in Charles and Patuxent River in St. Mary’s.
“The work the chambers across Southern Maryland do is vital to everything we do [with the Military Alliance Council],” Klaas told the networking crowd before announcing the latest partnership between Scandinavian munitions company Nammo and Naval Surface Warfare Center Indian Head. The partnership is expected to support up to 160 jobs at the base over 30 years.
“We want to make sure to get that information out to all of the chambers so their members can take advantage of that,” he said, speaking of the base’s desire for more such partnerships, large and small, in the future.
Guy Black, a retired state trooper and owner of Blackout Investigations and Security Services Inc. in Waldorf, said he was one of the original members of the black chamber.
“I met Doris, and that’s all it took,” the La Plata man said. “I’m getting active in my community by working for and promoting change.
“The chamber has been good for me. It’s a chance to make a difference in the community.”
And that’s the attitude Cammack-Spencer said is required in the Southern Maryland Minority Chamber of Commerce.
“If you become a member, you’re obligated to join a committee,” she told the 40 or so people gathered for the mixer. “We are a ‘working’ chamber.”
Doris Cammack-Spencer talks with, from left, Brian Klaas of Nanjemoy, a member of the Charles County Chamber of Commerce; Vince Hungerford of Indian Head, co-chairman of the Charles’ chamber’s Military Alliance Committee (MAC); and John Huggins of Indian Head, who represents the minority chamber on the MAC.