Florence City Councilman Ed Robinson has formed the Carolina Regional Black Chamber of Commerce because he believes the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce isn't working to attract and promote black businesses.
Robinson's chamber is being housed at the SiMT Incubator facility in Florence. He said he has 20 businesses so far with five board members.
"We're not here to be separate. We're here to be a part of. All other ethnic groups are moving up and pushing their agenda except the blacks. And we want to be a black Chamber of Commerce to ensure that black businesses. We want to grow black businesses, grow black businesses so that we can be a part of the growth and development of the city. And that has been what's been lacking. That has been my complaint for the whole while," said Robinson.
Robinson said too many black owned businesses in Florence are closing. He believes that's partly because the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce is overlooking them.
"We have been left out. And we want to be a part of the group. Nothing, none of my objections has anything to do with the growth and development of downtown in a negative way. I want it to grow. I want it to grow, but I want it to be inclusive of all ethnicities. From a Black perspective, we're just not a part of it," he said.
Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce President Mike Miller said he isn't sure how many of the Chamber's 600 members are black business owners, but he praised the Chamber's programs to attract black merchants.
Miller also said they have incentives in place to help black business owners with fees to join the Florence chamber.
Chamber Director of Community and Minority Enterprise Les Echols said he's spent the past year recruiting minority businesses.
"We're doing what we can as far as promoting minority and small businesses," explained Echols.
Robinson said his chamber isn't meant to divide the races but to unite them. He welcomes business owners of all races to join.
He said his chamber had to have black or African American in its name to be a part of the National Black Chamber of Commerce.
"So the fact that we are a black chamber doesn't mean that we are just for blacks," said Robinson.
Carolina Regional Black Chamber of Commerce is registered as a non-profit organization with the State of South Carolina.
Robinson is planning a grand opening ceremony in the coming weeks.