Milwaukee business owner launches Pan-Asian chamber

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:40 pm

Ritu Sharma, a minority small-business owner, recently launched the first state chapter of the United States Pan Asian American Chamber of Commerce (USPAACC) in Wisconsin. Sharma, who owns Milwaukee-based Polymorph Media Solutions LLC, will serve as president of new USPAACC-WI. USPAACC is a national organization that was founded 20 years ago in Washington, D.C., to represent Asian-Americans and Asian-American-related groups while promoting economic growth. Pan-Asian-Americans include people who have a heritage from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, the Philippines, Korea, India, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Pakistan, Mongolia and Indonesia.

USPAACC has five regional chapters in Southern California, the Northeast, the Southwest, the Midwest and the Southeast states. USPAACC-WI is the first state chapter for the organization.

“The organization was created to support the development of business,” Sharma said. “I researched Asian organizations and could not find one that had an economic focus besides the Hmong Chamber of Commerce, but the Hmong chamber only serves the Hmong population.”

Sharma first felt the need to create a local Asian-American chamber of commerce while attending the annual event for the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.

“After I heard the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Wisconsin talk about the economic, social and cultural impacts of Hispanics, I looked up the impact of Asians,” Sharma said. “Even though Asians make up a small percentage of the population, they contribute a large chunk of gross receipts.”

The U.S. Department of Commerce Minority Business Development Agency reported that in 1997, there were 3,753 Asian- and Pacific Islander-owned business firms in Wisconsin, totaling $1.5 billion in sales.

Sharma contacted the national USPAACC organization  and the Midwest regional chapter in Chicago to determine if she could partner with the organization to open a Wisconsin chapter or to start an independent chamber of commerce.

 “The conclusion was to join an established organization with a set framework and connections to help the Asian community to communicate more as a unified voice,” Sharma said.

In May, Sharma joined the board of directors for the Midwest Chapter and began planning for the launch of USPAACC-WI. USPAACC plans to open state chapters nationwide, Sharma said.

Sharma has contacted multiple existing Asian American organizations in Wisconsin to join the chamber, including the Wisconsin Organization of Asian Americans in Milwaukee and Madison; Japanese American Citizens League (JACL); Organization of Chinese Americans; Filipino American Association of Wisconsin; Hmong American Community Association; Hmong American Friendship Association; Hmong Chamber of Commerce; National Association of Asian American Professionals; International Professionals Association and South East Asian Leaders (SEAL).

Local business executives helped Sharma launch USPAAC-WI, including Jacqueline Ward of the Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corp. (WWBIC) in Milwaukee; Jesse Jaspal of PSJ Engineering Inc., Milwaukee; Heidi Pascual of Asian Wisconzine, Madison; Harry Lum of Convenience Electronics, Madison; Satwant Kaleka of Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, Milwaukee; and Debby Twes, director of Asian Moon Festival, Milwaukee.

“We fragment ourselves but we can benefit most by forgetting why we are different and focusing on one economic goal, which is helping business creation and overall economic success,” Sharma said.

The Asian community particularly needs assistance with starting a business, Sharma said.

“Business creation is a big focus and helping individuals develop their businesses to take them to the next level,” Sharma said. “Asian entrepreneurs don’t always use a support system, but if they are given the right tools and use the resources that are freely available, they will develop and grow a lot faster. The lack of knowledge of resources is the biggest challenge that I see.”

Sharma plans to address the individual needs of business owners through multiple programs, including a business incubator; business plan training with Asian entrepreneurs through the University of Wisconsin-Extension and the U.S. Small Business Administration; quarterly roundtables with large corporations and government agencies; a USPAACC-WI business expo; an annual holiday social for members; an annual banquet with a business plan competition and scholarships; an annual golf outing; and chamber workshops.

“Business owners can be inadequate in planning and executing because they are so wrapped up in putting out fires,” Sharma said. “Through the workshops and training, USPAAC-WI wants to help business owners learn how to develop an idea and put a structure in place for long term financial planning.”

Membership is open to Asian and non-Asian individuals and businesses. Sharma said USPAACC-WI has already received strong interest from Harley-Davidson Inc. Milwaukee; S.C. Johnson & Son Inc., Racine; Rockwell Automation Inc., Milwaukee; Manpower Inc., Glendale; We Energies, Milwaukee; and American Family Insurance Group, Madison.

Sharma is also speaking with government organizations, including the Wisconsin Department of Commerce; the City of Milwaukee; Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority; the SBA; and SCORE.

Sharma said she does not yet have formal membership commitments from the corporations or government organizations she has contacted.

Annual membership fees for the organization are $75 for individual membership; $25 for nonprofit and governmental agencies; $1,000 for corporate membership for companies with less than 250 employees; and $2,000 for corporate membership for companies with more than 250 employees.

“USPAACC-WI wants to make valuable connections to our respective countries, to understand the landscape and political structure so that we can be a vital connection to Asia,” Sharma said. “We also want to open doors to Wisconsin businesses trying to do business with Asian countries.”

Sharma is promoting the new organization through the Web site,, and within the local communities.

Sharma’s goal for USPAACC-WI is to grow to 1,000 members in 2007. USPAACC-WI is still assembling its board of directors and is in the process of becoming a 501(c)(3)-certified nonprofit organization.

 “It is about forgetting our differences and focusing on economic development and the power of unity,” Sharma said. “We can spur phenomenal development if we put our strengths together.”

Growing impact

Asian-Americans make up 5 percent of the U.S. population, according to the U.S. Census in May 2005. C.N. Le, an Asian American sociology professor, compiled a list of facts on Asian Americans on his Web site,

  • 14 million U.S. residents said they were Asian or Asian in combination with one or more other races in July 2004.
  • 52 percent of individuals foreign-born in the U.S. from Asia are naturalized as U.S. citizens.
  • The projected increase in the population of people who identify themselves as Asian is 213 percent, totaling 33.4 million, from 2000 to 2050, compared with a 49 percent projected increase in the population as a whole in the same period.
  • 49 percent of Asians age 25 and older have a bachelor’s degree or higher level of education. Asians have the highest proportion of college graduates of any other race or ethnic group in the U.S.
  • 1.1 million businesses in the U.S. were owned by Asian-Americans in 2002, an increase of 24 percent from 1997.
  • Asian-American-owned businesses produced $343.3 billion in receipts in 2002, an increase of 13 percent from 1997. An estimated 319,911 Asian-owned businesses had paid employees and their receipts totaled $307.6 billion, or $961,379 per firm.

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