Staff Perspectives: The Center for Economic Inclusion

Staff Perspectives: The Center for Economic Inclusion 11

After launching the Center for Economic Inclusion (CEI) last fall, the Grand Rapids Chamber has expanded their outreach to diverse-owned business owners to create a more equitable business landscape.

Since then, the initiative has launched a minority- and women-owned business certification program, built social connections and kicked off programs to empower diverse business owners.

We asked a handful of our staff to share what they’ve been working on and what this initiative means to them.


What is the Center for Economic Inclusion in your own words?

“A space where business owners can learn about all the resources available to ensure success.”  Caylie Peet

“It’s a Chamber-lead initiative, alongside many community partners, that will positively impact the entire West Michigan community of entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds. The mission is to use the Chamber’s resources and connections to help small business owners thrive as leaders and continue to grow their businesses, and therefore contribute further to the local economy and region as a whole. We are excited to set the framework for the Center and work with already existing resources and programs to advance equitable economic development opportunities for a thriving and prosperous West Michigan for all.”  Megan Steenwyk

“A case-management support for entrepreneurs and small businesses to connect them directly with the business resources throughout West Michigan. Our team of experts can walk alongside business owners to find the solutions to their needs and streamline the communication between business resource centers/groups.” – Amanda Hentsch

“A personification of the commitment our organization has to pursuing equity.”  Amari Brown

“It’s a space that connects and provides the hand-in-hand support and resources for the dynamic and diverse business community of West Michigan.” – Shawnee Haseley


How is your work involved with CEI?

“My segment of work focuses on support for historically underrepresented.”  Caylie Peet

“I’m leading the Business Growth Workshop series and ELEVATE, a cohort-based program for scaling diverse-owned businesses. In addition, my work is directly tied to CEI through direct business outreach and business coaching. I am honored to be working alongside the rest of the Business Services team and the entire Chamber team to imbed DEI best practices and Center for Economic Inclusion goals and objectives into every program and service we offer at our organization.”  Megan Steenwyk

“Business Owners and Grand Rapids Chamber Members rely on the GR Chamber to find solutions to grow their businesses. By having the Center for Economic Inclusion, we have a clear path to resources and growth opportunities. And with a focus on supporting our underrepresented community, we can have an equity lens to be intentional about this work.” – Amanda Hentsch

“As the Inclusion Program Manager, the work of CEI is closely tied to my team’s work. Our team focuses on making sure that The Chamber centers diversity, equity, and inclusion in everything we do. The CEI is a one way that we are pursuing equity in our work.”  Amari Brown

“I have the privilege of implementing the events that are a great resource from the umbrella of CEI, such as the Diversify Your Spend Business Showcase and the West Michigan Minority Contractors Golf Outing. For any event, my true goal is to create an event where anyone can walk in and feel seen, supported, and included in the space and conversation. It even goes further than that by utilizing the services that those that are historically underrepresented provide.” – Shawnee Haseley


Why is CEI important for our community?

“We must ensure equal opportunity and see leaders in all industries and backgrounds.”  Caylie Peet

“The Center for Economic Inclusion will be a bridge between over 2,100 Chamber members and stakeholders with the diverse business community. This means that there will be more opportunities for large organizations to work with smaller organizations through supplier diversity, and more potential for high B2B interactions. This will help small businesses gain clients and this will help larger organizations source new contracts. There is high potential for collaboration and therefore, a more inclusive community.  This will add to the overall business climate in GR and will develop a strong workforce for years to come as our community and city grow.”  Megan Steenwyk

“Business Owners and Grand Rapids Chamber Members rely on the GR Chamber to find solutions to grow their businesses. By having the Center for Economic Inclusion, we have a clear path to resources and growth opportunities. And with a focus on supporting our underrepresented community, we can have an equity lens to be intentional about this work.” – Amanda Hentsch

“Not only is CEI important for our community–it is critical. It seeks to address critical gaps in accessiblltiy to resources for our marginalized community members. The CEI’s work will be focused on making strides toward equitable economic growth which is essential for our city.”  Amari Brown

“If you think of a city, you think of different places to see, things to do, different organizations and businesses with various types of products. A city is made up of different people with different lifestyles, backgrounds, race, ethnicity, gender, and stories. CEI sees these differences and provides the resources to make the businesses stronger, supported, and feel a part of the city with the same resources that are available to all.” – Shawnee Haseley


What does this initiative mean to you personally?

“I want to see our city’s demographics match our community’s leaders and key decisions makers.”  Caylie Peet

“CEI is an opportunity for me to directly live out my personal values and career goals. I worked in affordable housing before coming to the Chamber where I saw families with children struggle with various forms of poverty/lack of opportunity. By creating more economic development opportunities for the small-and-medium businesses who are in our community, we can bring new job opportunities to underserved neighborhoods and increase access for families to have greater incomes and therefore more opportunities to thrive. Business plays such a large role in creating a prosperous city, and I truly see it as an honor to be at the forefront of this new Center and its potential to make a positive impact on individuals and organizations.”  Megan Steenwyk

“This initiative is going to be a game changer for our members and our business community. Navigating the business resource ecosystem in West Michigan is challenging and at times overwhelming for a business owner who is already busy trying to run and start a business. Knowing that our team will be there to support can alleviate the stress and make a lasting impact on the growth path for our businesses.” – Amanda Hentsch

“To me, this initiative means so much. It demonstrates that The Chamber recognizes the inequity that exists for entrepreneurs of color. Not only do we recognize it, we are doing something about it.”  Amari Brown

“This initiative means growth towards the progress that the dynamic and diverse West Michigan business community has already made and still continues to make day by day and hand in hand with one another with the support of the Grand Rapids Chamber.” – Shawnee Haseley


Learn more about the Center for Economic Inclusion here.


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