The Austin African American Business Networking Association (AAABNA) held its monthly meeting at African Accents, 5847 W. Chicago Ave., last Friday morning. Discussion focused on how local contractors and business people can take advantage of new development and construction in the area.

The network was formed by Austin business owners who are proud of their African-American heritage and felt that there was a need for them to pool their resources and bring about effective change in the Austin community.

The AAABNA as a networking association has been working for the past two years to make a difference in the Austin community. Members are not about “lip service” but real input and serious changes. When Rev. Jesse Jackson made his call for a Haitian relief effort, AAABNA was one of the first West Side groups to step up to the plate. Useful aid articles were donated and delivered to Rainbow PUSH headquarters.

AAABNA is also trying to become a helpful resource for the community. If they can’t do it, they’ll recommend someone who can. This type of networking is having an impact because business owners are now contacting the group for information. Austin is a community that is in transition”new condos, new businesses, street improvements and various other community efforts are ongoing daily.

Austin has been plagued with a bad reputation based on “drugs and crime,” and AAABNA is working to erase that. Business people, politicians and civic leaders all seem to recognize that there is strength in having a unified front.

First on the AAABNA meeting agenda last Friday was Wal-Mart and establishing a business relationship before construction begins. President Malcolm Crawford stated, “Wal-Mart is getting ready to break ground. They are in the teardown stages. I talked with Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) about a contact person. She stated they are in the demolition stages now. I asked about contact specifically for businesses that are already in Austin. What continues to happen, like in Oak Park, they just put up a new fruit market on North Avenue. There are all epoxy floors throughout. Now we’ve got a member, Bemus Lester, who could have done the work right here down the street.

“The Austin community needs an African-American resource guide because the same problems come up all the time. Ald. Mitts’ contact person said she needs to know who’s doing what, so that when she meets with the representatives about development, she can tell them who, what and where is available in the Austin area. A gentlemen I talked with from the Illinois Dept. of Commerce and Economic Opportunities said they would be interested in working with us on a resource guide.”

It was suggested that follow-up with the alderman is important and meeting as a group with her should be arranged. A need to be inclusive and bringing in business people in various fields will be needed during the building stage and input from the business community needs to start at the planning stage. Partnering will be important because money should be put back into the community that will be affected by them coming in.

The Austin African American Business Networking Association is becoming a important link in the Austin community. This kind of networking is a “win-win” for everyone involved. Having input in where you live, work and play makes for good strong communities. AAABNA’s mission statement is “To create African-American-owned business growth in Austin through networking. To provide support and nurturing for new and existing businesses.” For business applications and more information, call 773/626-4506.