Sanders driven to aid black-owned businesses
by Staff Writer
While the Charlotte region prepares for the Democratic National Convention in less than two weeks, Renae Sanders, of Huntersville, is seeking long-term opportunities for African-American businesses as the leader of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Black Chamber of Commerce.
Like similar nonprofits, the CMBCC, founded more than 25 years ago, has struggled to raise money, maintain an active membership and raise its profile in the business community. Recently, its sole employee was laid off and the organization’s office hours were cut.
Sanders noted that trends show memberships grow mostly in the winter, spring and fall, and because of the summer slow period, the reductions were necessary.
“We will rely primarily on volunteers to sustain us,” she said. “Salaries are our largest controllable expense.”
Sanders, however, remains resilient and has put strategies in place for long-term growth and better visibility.
“We’ve updated our systems with letters and information to better inform our members of the value in membership,” she said. “We’ve revamped our marketing committee to include experts in the field to ensure a broader reach. We need to tell our story and the success stories of our members. Our business development team has established a formal process that defines the strategic areas of training and development for member businesses.”
Sanders joined CMBCC’s board last year and became its chairman in January. The goals, she said, are to advocate for black businesses, assist urban communities and businesses to become self-sustaining, ensure economic conditions are equitable and inclusive, work with government agencies and financial institutions to improve access to capital, and develop and sustain relationships with local and state officials.
As part of her networking strategy, she is attending more local business events and finding ways to tell the group’s story. Recently, Black Entertainment Television interviewed her for a segment to be broadcast during the DNC.
“My goal is to be a major player in Mayor (Anthony) Foxx’s new direction around economic inclusion,” said Sanders, a South Carolina native with degrees from the University of South Carolina, Wake Forest University and the University of Phoenix.
Prior to launching KRS Consulting, a management consulting firm, in 2009, Sanders spent more than two decades in financial services. Before the Wachovia-Wells Fargo merger, Sanders was a banking senior vice president.
“Being in a banking environment, you have to be open and able to make changes very quickly, and after being downsized, it takes a lot to remain driven, said Carin Ross-Johnson, a senior vice president at Bank of America. “Renae has remained driven.”
Laura Johnson, director of library services at Livingston College, described Sanders as an inclusive leader who knows how to structure a plan.
The CMBCC relies heavily on donations from members and corporate sponsors. Organizations like Wells Fargo and Belk have provided financial support over the years.
“One of my primary goals is to make sure that we are consistently touching the large corporations for support,” Sanders said.
In the past year, Sanders said the CMBCC has seen a 50-percent increase in membership and has 200 members on its roster. The group offers monthly networking events on the first Tuesday of the month and general body meetings on the third Thursday of each month.
“I still think we have a long way to go,” she said. “We have to do a better job presenting who we are to the community.”
According to a 2012 study conducted by Charlotte Chamber of Commerce, there are 21,500 African-American-owned businesses in the Charlotte region. With the DNC coming to Charlotte, many African-American businesses still have not been awarded contracts.
“My immediate goal for the CMBCC is to be a financially stable organization with a fully engaged membership,” she said. “That way, we can be full partners in the region’s economic future.”