When it comes to finding LGBT-owned businesses to support in Atlanta, one doesn’t have to look far. From seasoned city staples like Charis Books & More to relative newcomers like Henry’s Midtown Tavern, there are countless local business owners hoisting the rainbow flag.
Yet despite all of that visibility, a surprising fact remains. Just 44 businesses in Georgia are registered as LGBT Businesses Enterprises, a national designation that qualifies companies to compete for the type of big-ticket corporate contracts that can take them to the next level.
It’s an imbalance that rankles Daniel Dunlop, newly-named president of the Atlanta Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, who is charged with promoting economic growth and development among the city’s LGBT-owned businesses. The group’s response: A day-long summit designed to bring LGBT businesses and corporations together to network, assess the region’s LGBT economy and discuss their role in helping rainbow commerce thrive in Atlanta.
Rise of the Rainbow Economy: The 2017 AGLCC LGBT Business Summit will take place June 23 at the Four Seasons Hotel in Midtown. Organizers expect 250 business owners to turn out for a day of panel discussions and workshops, with business giants like Coke, Georgia Power and Wells Fargo. The event also includes a mayoral panel moderated by journalist Maria Saporta. Five out of nine mayoral candidates are expected to attend, Dunlop said.
The event is a first for the chamber.
“It’s been in the plans for the last couple of years,” Dunlop said, adding that a mini-grant won last summer helped crystallize plans. “We wanted to just bring together any areas of the economic force – business and personal consumption and policy advocacy.”
Indeed, the event is billed as a seminar “exploring the intersectionality of personal, professional and social responsibility and advocacy.” It’s a broad field to cover and Dunlop acknowledged the event would be only a first step.
“We can’t obviously deep dive in one afternoon,” he said. “But we are touching on some important parts that bring together the whole rise of the rainbow economy.”
Georgia has fifth-most registered LGBTBEs
That economy is booming, according to a January report from the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce that estimated the nation’s roughly 1.4 million LGBT businesses contributed nearly $2 trillion to the national economy in 2015.
Less impressive is the number of businesses registered as LGBT Business Enterprises – LGBTBEs – through the national chamber. Nationwide, just over 900 businesses have the registration, which qualifies them to compete for business under diverse supplier initiatives at some of the nation’s largest companies.
Georgia has the fifth-highest number of registered LGBTBEs in the nation, but Dunlop sees potential for many more. The group hopes to double registries over the next few years by encouraging businesses to recognize the value of identifying as LGBT-owned.
“Sometimes there are those that don’t see the need, but it’s important that we stand and be counted,” he said. “There’s power in information, there’s power in coming together and there’s power in identifying.”
Dunlop said some businesses are discouraged by the extensive, multi-level verification process required to get the certification. Still others aren’t sure how they could market their services to corporations even if they were registered.
The June event will feature tips for kicking off conversations with corporate entities as well as ways to make your smaller business more appealing. He gave the example of a niche production company partnering with a caterer to pursue an opportunity.
“It becomes a stronger, inclusive contract, to be able to compete at that level,” he said. “We’re going to be telling that story – to look for those like-minded services.”
Though the process of registering is extensive, business owners will quickly realize the value, said Billy Cochran, vice president of TP Corporate Lodging, in Norcross. The company is a registered LGBTBE and he said they have already seen a bump in business as a result.
“There are businesses looking to spend with these [LGBT] companies,” said Cochran, who will be at the event. “This is a place to go and learn how that can happen, as well as network.”
Cochran said he was heartened by how often he’s begun seeing company procurement processes including a checkbox for LGBT-owned.
“You never really know what’s going to bring you business and if you look at the return on investment for the time and energy it takes to get that certification verses taking out an ad – this is definitely going to be a better return on your investment,” he said.
Looking for an even playing field
The conversations are particularly important when it comes to high-profile events with millions of dollars in potential business. For local LGBT businesses, one of the biggest upcoming opportunities lies in the Super Bowl, expected to draw countless football fans – and their dollars – to Atlanta in 2019
“Our fellow chamber in San Francisco, for Super Bowl 50, they were successful in helping their LGBT community gain 18 contracts with the NFL host committee,” said Dunlop, adding members from that chamber will share tips for their success at the June 23 event.
But LGBT business issues aren’t limited to getting big contracts. Dunlop pointed out that a lack of state-level protection means Atlanta LGBT businesses are still vulnerable to discrimination by everybody from landlords to loan officers.
Until laws change, Dunlop said LGBT business owners have to focus on creating support at the corporate level and even among local lawmakers, like the five mayoral candidates expected to attend.
Those who had accepted the invite as of the first week in June include former City of Atlanta COO Peter Aman, Atlanta City Councilmember Keisha Lance Bottoms, Atlanta City Councilmember Kwanza Hall, Atlanta City Councilmember Mary Norwood, Fulton County Commission Chairman John Eaves, former Atlanta City Council President Cathy Woolard and current Atlanta City Council President Ceasar Mitchell.
The candidates will be there to discuss their vision for the city economy as well as lay out their plans for supporting the business community as a whole and LGBT businesspersons in particular.
Until laws change at the state level, Dunlop said it’s critical that the LGBT business community find support at the municipal level.
“There’s a lot of legislation that can affect LGBT business and we just want to hear what their thoughts are,” he said, later adding, “We’re not looking to have an advantage, we’re looking to have an even playing field.”
Rise of the Rainbow Economy: The 2017 AGLCC LGBT Business Summit
Friday, June 23, 1 – 5 p.m. with reception following
Four Seasons Hotel Atlanta, 75 14th St. NE, Atlanta, GA 30309
Registration costs vary www.business.atlantagaychamber.org