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SC businesses embrace diversity, innovation during National Small Business Week


Challenges thrust upon South Carolina businesses over the last eighteen months have been unprecedented. But, in many cases, so have the opportunities to grow.

As the new Chief Diversity Officer of the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce, I have seen many businesses in our state respond to adversity by embracing challenges. Now, as we transition from Black Business Month to National Small Business Week, I want to share success stories to show the immense potential to grow if you are intentionally diverse, adaptive, and resourceful.

Diversity – intentionally hiring and promoting people of all backgrounds and experiences within an organization - and inclusion - fairness and equal access to opportunities and resources within that same organization - are more important than ever. They ensure the mix of ideas brought to the table are numerous and creative. When people bring different experiences into the workplace, it challenges businesses to think in new ways. That is good for growth, productivity and the bottom line.

As the leading voice for business in South Carolina, we currently offer minority- and women-owned small businesses opportunities to participate in the ENRG - Empower, Network, Resource, and Growth Program powered by The Duke Energy Foundation. Through the program, we discussed with business owners many best practices for marketing, finance, legal issues, human resources, and sustainability. Business owners who took part in the program have been able to use the information they learned in the sessions to continue to adapt to changes around them.

Our engagement with these businesses exposed us to many creative marketing strategies for reaching consumers. They shared best practices on surviving when your livelihood is on the line. And they taught us how businesses advocate for themselves and their employees, as they had to do during some of the lowest points of the pandemic.

Many of our members chose to adapt by engaging on social media. In fact, two of our outstanding ENRG program participants employed digital tools to survive the pandemic. Their success stories are worth mentioning because they illustrate the value of social media when used appropriately.

A black-owned, small business located in Florence, Girls University, affords young women a chance to be their best, gain confidence in their abilities, and explore possibilities they may have never considered. Founder Ashli Smart has a passion for inspiring, motivating, and educating young women, believing they deserve positive role models, who are equally passionate about their personal and academic success.

Focusing on STEM and STEAM leadership, Girls University has a robust Instagram presence with posts that offer virtual and e-learning resources and invite camp sign ups, along with stories and highlights.

Bishopville’s Let’s Ride Cycling Studio is another pandemic success story. Let’s Ride Cycling Studio provides patrons with a unique experience that mixes popular music videos with intense exercise. They now effectively use digital tools, posting about classes and member pictures on Facebook to reach customers they might not have otherwise been able to as the public health crisis thwarted in-person workouts.

These businesses demonstrated a resourcefulness that is a lesson for all. Growth comes from change and change comes from obstacles presented, but in the end – it is not about the destination, but the journey faced together.

As Black Business Month closes and National Small Business Week begins, join me in marking the achievements of these businesses. I also hope you will support black-owned and women-owned companies, and all small businesses, as they continue to recover from the pandemic. With 99.4% of the state’s businesses classified as small businesses, it is important that we recognize their contribution to South Carolina’s shared economic success.

Cynthia Bennett is the Chief Diversity Officer of the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce.

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