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OWENS: Urban Savannah Chamber celebrates making waves

Surely you have heard of the adage, “A rising tide raises all boats.” It’s something we say in the Tourism Leadership Council office on an almost daily basis.

Our organization was built on that saying that if we, as a tourism community — all in our individual boats — will rise, then we all find further success.

Recently, the Tourism Leadership Council was nominated for the Urban Savannah Chamber of Commerce’s Community Advocate Award.

We were honored to be nominated alongside Tiffany Nelson at Build a Bridge Foundation and Georgette Jackson at Divine Rest, Inc., both amazing organizations within our community. Build a Bridge definitely deserved the award, but we felt like we won in getting to celebrate this growing organization.

The Urban Savannah Chamber of Commerce launched in January 2016 as a chamber for African American, minority, and women business owners.

Last Friday, they held their inaugural Annual Awards Banquet to celebrate the accomplishments over the last year. As I sat in the room, looking around at a sea of diversity, I was encouraged at all the walks of life represented.

The night included a look back at how things got started as a networking opportunity.

The President of the Urban Savannah Chamber of Commerce, John Voner, shared that minorities weren’t networking effectively, if at all.

“They were intimidated to go into a room of CEOs and start the conversation,” Voner said. “We literally taught the group how to network, how to give an elevator pitch, and even came up with creative ideas to get their stories out there using selfies and social media.”

Over the course of the year, Voner said people came out of their shell because they now know how to express their ideas.

He was quick to add that the Urban Savannah Chamber does not take the place of the Savannah Area Chamber of Commerce.

“The community that I get to represent needs more help in getting started than the needs of the more established, successful businesses within the Savannah Area Chamber of Commerce,” Voner said.

A theme that was repeated throughout the night was that if this group succeeds, then we all succeed. Voner added, “If blacks win, the whole city wins.”

The African-American community makes up 55 percent of Savannah. As the majority, we do all succeed when the black community succeeds. But, we do have to work together. We cannot be isolated from one another if we’re going to build a community.

And, no matter what business you represent it’s beneficial to connect with 77,000 people in Savannah through not only the products and services you have, but the products and services that are being offered by the black-, minority-, and women-owned businesses.

I applaud the efforts of the Urban Savannah Chamber of Commerce as they embark on empowering a group who is decidedly underrepresented in the business community.

The adage from our office about a rising tide needs to be amended: “A rising tide raises all boats and sometimes you have to paddle to create your own waves.”

And, I can’t wait to see the waves of success, waves of economic prosperity, and waves of unity throughout our community by the work of the Urban Savannah Chamber of Commerce, its members and its partners.

Michael Owens is president/CEO of the Tourism Leadership Council, the largest non-profit trade organization that supports and represents the tourism community. Contact Owens at michael@tourismleadershipcouncil.com or by calling 912-232-1223.

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