Want to Read More?
Paid BizTimes subscribers get unlimited access to all Insider content and much more. Learn more in our Insider FAQ.
Already an Insider? Log In
Or click here to purchase a paywall bypass link for this article.
Ossie Kendrix, the president and chief executive officer of the African American Chamber of Commerce of Wisconsin, recently moved to the Dallas area with plans to continue leading the Milwaukee-based organization remotely in 2021 while maintaining dual residences in both cities. The chamber this fall announced it has reached a $1 million fundraising goal to fund its new Legacy Co-Working and Innovation Space, which is under development at 1920 N. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and slated to open early next year. Kendrix recently reflected on the Legacy campaign and his move in a conversation with BizTimes associate editor Lauren Anderson.
How do you feel having completed the Legacy campaign goal?
“Fairly relieved. I remember it was July of 2019 when we kicked off the campaign. I got anxious, it was my first time ever running a capital campaign and a first for the African American Chamber. I had developed a list of prospects, and in one day I had gotten three ‘no’s.’ So, besides crawling up into a ball and crying to my wife about what to do next, I then developed another list of prospects and hit the ground running.
“And on that second list was (former Milwaukee County executive) Chris Abele, who I had met with for about two and a half hours and walked away with a ‘yes,’ that he would invest in the capital campaign. He didn’t really share an amount until maybe a week before Christmas in December, he called and donated $300,000 of his personal dollars in support of the campaign. That really jumpstarted the campaign to raise additional funds. … It was a bumpy ride but I’m excited that we made it to the finish line.”
How have you seen COVID-19 affect Black entrepreneurs in Milwaukee?
“It’s kind of a double-edged sword. When COVID first hit, my heart went out for entrepreneurs. I was well aware of the federal resources that were available for entrepreneurs, but it just didn’t come soon enough. So, we started a recovery fund that raised just over $150,000 to award … African American business owners in the greater Milwaukee area grants of up to $2,500 to help them reopen their doors. … When COVID hit, we had two cohorts going through the (AACCW’s) RISE entrepreneurial program face-to-face and within two weeks we transitioned that to virtual. We found that our business owners continued to be engaged and continued to find ways in which they could pivot their revenue streams in order to stay afloat.”
How are you handling remote work from Dallas?
“It’s been about two months now. … The biggest thing is the remote work and extreme commute isn’t unusual for business execs and definitely it is not unusual in this COVID pandemic era. What I’ve found is that the board is very comfortable with me continuing to lead the organization to ensure that Legacy is executed in a meaningful way. ... Later in 2021, I’ll work with the board to determine when the right time is to consider a leadership transition as well as a possible successor and identify or engage a consultant to assist in a search.”
Now that you’re in a different city, have you gained a new perspective on Milwaukee’s entrepreneurial and business climate?
“What I’m finding is that, when I do have a chance to travel around here in Dallas, the ecosystem relative to African American entrepreneurs is fairly fragmented. And it takes me back to Milwaukee – and not to say that Milwaukee does it well – but what I do think is that the ecosystem of African American entrepreneurs in Milwaukee is getting stronger and I’m happy to be part of that strengthening effort. I don’t think we’re there yet, but I do think it’s stronger than where I now reside in Dallas.”
African American Chamber of Commerce of Wisconsin 633 W. Wisconsin Ave., Milwaukee Employees: 4 aaccwi.org