Gay & Lesbian Chamber look for higher profile in business community
By Jaime Levy
With two websites slated to launch Dec. 3 and a new high-level membership with the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, the Miami-Dade Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce is trying to raise its profile in the business community.
Established about a year and a half ago when Network and the South Beach Business Guild merged, the chamber is now putting an infrastructure in place to fill a niche that its leaders say the Miami area is lacking: a group to specifically serve both the large gay and lesbian business community as well as businesses catering to the gay and lesbian market.
"Any group will try to serve its own community," said chamber president David Treece, of Hurwitz Kroll & Partners, an independent life insurance and financial services agency. "We want to be able to deliver the market, to make it more accessible. Anyone who's trying to target our market, we want to be able to work with."
To attract new members, the chamber is not just kicking off its websites, which will address both the local business community and potential tourists. The chamber's officials said they also are putting together discount packages and a seminar series to make membership more attractive.
"A lot of the events we're planning will be geared toward business. Advertising is very important, but social and meaningful seminar experiences are what our members are looking for," said Jim Konschnik, director of events. "Our goal for 2002 is to increase membership by expanding our scope."
Scope, he said, also applies to geography: currently, most of the group's monthly networking events are held on or near Miami Beach, despite the community's existence throughout Miami-Dade County.
Another aspect of the organization's attempt to expand its membership of about 115 involves the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce. By becoming a trustee member of the larger chamber last spring, the gay and lesbian group now has representatives participate in its various committees.
"In Dade County, the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce is enormously important, more so than any other chamber in the community. They take on a quasi-governmental role," Mr. Treece said. "It's important that our community takes its place at the table."
William Cullom, president and CEO of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, said he welcomes the gay and lesbian chamber into his organization.
"We are excited to have them in our chamber," said Mr. Cullom, who said he met with the group's leadership about a membership drive. "I told them if they wanted the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce to really understand all their issues and to become part of the total system, they needed to become active in the chamber and all the committees. It's a good thing for both groups."
The group has also gained the support of the Miami Beach Visitor & Convention Authority, which gave the chamber a $15,000 grant last winter.
"We gave them the grant so they could do a website and market directly toward a niche market," said Executive Director Grisette Roque Marcos. "Even though gay and lesbian travelers have been coming to Miami Beach for an extended period of time, we thought a vehicle through the Internet would be a really good marketing tool with good return for the cost."
The website is modeled after a similar Chicago site, which Ms. Marcos said receives 80,000 hits monthly and results in 6,000 visits each month.
The Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau is also joining the Miami-Dade Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce's website launch, providing much content for the calendar section. The bureau has also published a brochure geared toward gay and lesbian travelers that touts the chamber's travel-oriented website, www.gogaymiami.com. The business-oriented site will be located at www.gaybizmiami.com.
Ultimately, Mr. Treece said, the group's expansion and participation in the established business community will benefit economic development in the region.
"Discrimination is bad business, both microeconomically and macroeconomically," he said. "Most of the top MBA programs have gay and lesbian student groups. Most companies have special recruiting events for them in order to get the best and the brightest. It's just good business."