Little Rock’s Jay Chesshir has led the capital city’s economic growth and development through times of calm and times of crisis. As 2020 stakes its claim as one of the most heartbreaking and difficult years of our lives, the Little Rock Regional Chamber President and CEO Jay Chesshir sees possibility and hope. We sat down (socially distanced, of course) and discussed the Little Rock Regional Chamber’s stand on everything from diversity and new ideas during the pandemic to his thoughts about Little Rock’s economic future. We’ll share our chat with him in two parts, so wait, there’s more next week!
Q: In the wake of George Floyd’s death early this summer, Little Rock residents came together and demonstrated the need for major changes. Having a healthy and diverse economy is important to creating stronger communities. How do you feel the Little Rock Regional Chamber plays a role in shaping a more diverse economy?
A: The diversity of our people, place and economy is a significant selling point when we’re talking with prospective companies. Therefore, discrimination by any name is still discrimination. Whether it’s rooted in religion, race, or socio-economic status – we’re against it.
We’re for creating opportunities where everyone can benefit from what this great country offers us. That includes the opportunity to be entrepreneurs, valued workers, and to be educated so that we can better ourselves and better our families while creating a brighter future.
Q. Why was it so important for the Little Rock Regional Chamber to make a powerful statement about George Floyd’s death?
A: Witnessing an event like George Floyd’s death and staying silent about what you’ve seen speaks volumes. Being silent was not an option, and it was necessary to reaffirm our commitment to creating the kind of economy where all have opportunities, where all have justice, and where all are treated fairly. If we’re not for those things, how can we ever create a place where others want to live? Everyone wants to pursue their dreams, and they shouldn’t have to continuously look over their shoulder or around the corner to avoid the next moment that could possibly end their life.
Q: How do you feel we as a community can best support Black and Brown business owners?
A: The 100 Black Men of Greater Little Rock group often says, “They can’t be what they can’t see.” Many people take for granted growing up in a world where they were told they could be anything they wanted. But there are people in our society who have never heard, or believe, that because they’ve never actually seen it. We have to be intentionally focused on working with those people who need to see what they can be. Our future depends upon it.
Q: Speak to the entrepreneurs struggling through this pandemic. What’s one thing you want them to know?
A: First of all, this struggle will get better. Even if this pandemic has created a situation where a current business idea isn’t working, entrepreneurs can pivot and create new ideas and new ventures. I think in America, we have a fear of failure because failure connotes something negative. But I think we have to embrace a mindset where failure is part of the entrepreneurial journey. So don’t fear it, use it!
This pandemic is a great example. People see things around them that are needed but don’t yet exist. The old saying, “Never let a good crisis go to waste,” is indeed a mantra of entrepreneurs, whether the crisis is a pandemic, a lack of funding, or some other obstacle. Use the crisis as an opportunity to recalibrate what you’re doing. If it’s not working, wipe the slate clean and look at something that this crisis has shown we need because it’s not going away. We’re just going to have to find ways to manage within it.
Q: What do you see for the future of our local commerce here in Little Rock?
A: Our economy has not been as negatively impacted as many other cities and regions have. Part of that is because we’re a very diverse economy. Having this diverse economy helps insulate us from the wild gyrations we’ve seen in specific industry sectors. One of the reasons why we helped create The Venture Center was to be intentional about increasing the rate of economic growth through new entrepreneurial activity while continuing to nurture the important diverse industry sectors we already have. In doing so, we further insulate Little Rock from roller coaster swings in the economy while improving our growth opportunities.
In next week’s blog, Chesshir will talk about persistence in economic development, and all about Amazon!