The former head of the Austin Chamber of Commerce has resigned in order to form a brand new chamber of commerce for the whole West Side.
Tina Augustus, the former executive director of the Austin chamber, resigned in January in order to start the West Side Chamber of Commerce.
She said that she wanted to create an organization that would complement and support the existing local chambers, connecting them to resources and offering training they may not be able to afford.
The Chicago West Side Chamber of Commerce would also focus on supporting Black-owned and Hispanic-owned businesses and encouraging Black youth to start businesses of their own. Augustus said she plans to take advantage of her extensive network and she said she has support from the Illinois State Black Chamber of Commerce (ISBCC).
She announced the launch of the chamber during Ald. Chris Taliaferro’s (29th) monthly community meeting on Feb. 16, which was hosted on Zoom. The alderman offered his support, saying that he saw a larger chamber benefit the Northwest Side. Augustus said that they are still raising money, putting together committees and talking with neighborhood chambers of commerce, so she encouraged everyone to get involved.
Augustus owns the Elevate Services, a marketing and communications company that helps clients develop business plans and attend business development workshops. She tried to bring some of that experience to her role as the Austin chamber’s executive director. With the encouragement of her mentor, ISBCC President Larry Ivory, she decided to go beyond Austin.
“I decided to go ahead and do it because the need for this type of support is just so [important],” Augustus said.
She said she wanted to create an organization that would offer technical assistance, help with security financing and help with Minority Owned Enterprise/Women Owned Enterprise certification for all West Side businesses.
The new chamber would also create West Side networking opportunities, organize workshops to educate business owners about things like patenting and securing trademarks, among other services. Many of the existing chambers, she said, simply don’t have the means to provide those services on their own.
Augustus said that she is “leveraging the experience that I have, and network of partnerships that I built” to bring those resources. She is also putting together volunteer committees to brainstorm leads and ideas.
“We have quite a few committees that we’re looking to recruit [members for],” she said, adding that those committees range from a Youth Entrepreneurship and Education committee, an Economic Development committee and a Healthcare committee to a marketing and communication committee, among others.
The chamber’s service area includes West Town, the Near West Side, the Lower West Side, East Garfield Park, West Garfield Park, North Lawndale, South Lawndale, Humboldt Park and Austin.
Augustus said that she is still in the process of talking to various chambers in those communities and she didn’t want to release any details until those conversations are over.
“One of my major goals is to increase the number of days, not hours, that [the dollar] circulates in our community,” she said. “Right now, it only circulates for six hours.”
During the Feb. 16 meeting, Taliaferro said that he supports the concept. He cited the Northwest Connection Chamber of Commerce (NWCCC), which provides business development assistance and resources to businesses in North Austin, Humboldt Park, Montclare, Belmont Cragin and Hermosa, as a model.
“I think having a strong chamber is vital to the communities,” he said. “The [NWCCC] is a strong organization, and I think that’s what our West Side needs from the business perspective — a very strong chamber.”
Judith Alexander, the chair of The North Avenue District, said that Augustus hadn’t reached out to her as of Feb. 17, but she thought that having a regional chamber that would help local chambers is a good idea.
“We do our best to find out and share programs and share web seminars,” she said. “ Let’s say one of our businesses needs help applying for something, it would be great if there is a resource, because, right now, we don’t have the bandwidth to do that.”
To volunteer for the Chicago West Side Chamber of Commerce, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. The chamber website, chicagowestsidechamber.org, is scheduled to go live on Feb. 24.