The Wisconsin Black Chamber of Commerce (WBCC) announced Tuesday construction of a new office space to catalyze STEM-focused businesses in Milwaukee’s west side. STEM, an acronym for science, technology, engineering and mathematics, closely ties education in those fields and related careers.
The chamber will redevelop a two-floor, red brick building at 2900 W. Vliet Street into modern incubator spaces for young businesses, a training facility, a conference room and a hydration station, chamber officials said. The chamber concentrates on developing challenged businesses. Officials said the project will help create more African American owned business.
WBCC Chairman and CEO Ruben Hopkins said he got the idea for the 3,000 Black Business Challenge from former Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority Executive Director Wyman Winston during the former Walker administration.
“We’ve promoted our 3,000 Black Business Challenge for years. We first had the idea during the (former) Walker administration where the conversation was in order for Black communities to catch up. We have to start 3,000 businesses a year, where access to capital ecosystem is concerned. We’ve waited for the opportunity for execute that for a while,” WBCC Chairman and CEO Ruben Hopkins told The Daily Reporter.
A manufacturer for prefabricated home construction will move into the building, Hopkins said. Other tenants include a training facility for Milwaukee-based contractor Brothers Infrastructure Group (BIG) and a STEM research center, he added.
“We’re putting quite a few people to work. The technology we’re bringing in is the technology the community is interested in. We’ll have a shared workspace and the ability to incubate young businesses. Most of those businesses will be in the STEM community; IT professionals, installers and other businesses will be our focus,” Hopkins said.
Renovating the space will mean more room for tenants who will train construction apprentices like BIG, company superintendent Glen Malcom III told The Daily Reporter.
“There’s more room for us. We can use the space to frame up walls and tear down walls. The biggest aspect is room to train the students,” Malcom said.
The project includes space for a hydration station with to-go food such as sandwiches and coffee. The chamber wants to develop a full commercial kitchen and bring in a restaurant owner who wants to brand themselves in the space, Hopkins added.
Milwaukee Department of City Development Commissioner Lafayette Crump praised the project for supporting creation of Black-owned businesses and boosting equitable economic development in the city.
“The Wisconsin Black Chamber of Commerce is a vital partner in supporting the creation of new Black-owned businesses and boosting equitable economic development in our neighborhoods. The Chamber’s investment on West Vliet Street highlights their commitment to Milwaukee and the potential of this growing commercial corridor. This new location will help expand access to capital, resources, and assistance in serving the needs of Black-owned businesses and Black entrepreneurs, workers, and community members. I am looking forward to the positive benefits that the Wisconsin Black Chamber of Commerce will continue to provide for the City of Milwaukee,” Crump said in a statement.
Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley said African American businesses historically struggled to access capital and other resources to thrive, and the development would meet entrepreneurs where they are.
“I’m excited to see the chamber poised to make an even greater impact in the community. Black businesses historically have struggled to access capital, guidance and other crucial resources needed for any business to thrive. Meeting entrepreneurs where they are and giving them the tools to be successful is how we transform our community for the better and move forward on the path of health and race equity,” Crowley said in a statement.
Crews broke ground on March 1 and the project will take two to three years to complete, chamber officials said. BIG will serve as the general contractor and Milwaukee-based HGA will provide architectural services.