Time was, whenever you mentioned a gay-owned business, people automatically thought of florists, hair stylists, or interior designers, without considering the possibility of their membership in other fields. Today, however, while LGBT owners are still well represented in these professions, you are also just as likely to think of doctors, attorneys, realtors, printers, wellness consultants, building contractors and other businesses that defy traditional stereotypes.
Professionals and companies in these and various other fields participated in the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce’s 2014 Business and Leadership Conference, held July 29 through August 1, 2014, in Las Vegas. NGLCC is an organization that has shined light on the diversity of the LGBT business community. As an example of that diversity, the conference attracted more than 700 business professionals from 150 companies from across the United States, and as far away as Argentina, each representing the crème of the LGBT business world. Executives from 38 U.S. affiliates, including the Capital Area Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (CAGLCC), along with those of several overseas business organizations, were present to network and develop strategic relationships designed to help them obtain leads, foster working relationships, and increase their companies’ bottom lines.
The conference also featured more than 140 major corporations, including many Fortune 500 firms, seeking to connect with LGBT-owned businesses to form strategic partnerships with NGLCC certified businesses to help them tap into the spending power (estimated at $800 million) of the gay and lesbian community.
Businesses allied with the LGBT community included not only major multi-nationals like IBM, AMC, Wells Fargo, and HP, but also more unusual companies such as Cummins Diesel, a major manufacturer of power generation equipment and truck and automotive engines, and foreign-based concerns including Chevron (Venezuela) and Shell Oil (the Netherlands). Among the activities held were “Matchmaker” meetings, organized by NGLCC, between LGBT Certified Businesses and corporate procurement professionals. Procurement officials advise LGBT businesses about the best ways to do business with corporate America and what special incentives are available to NGLCC partners.
According to Justin Nelson, NGLCC co-founder and CEO: “When we held our first conference 12 years ago in Washington, we had 50 people max. Today, most of the business community recognizes how diverse and influential the LGBT business community is, and wants to know how they can work with them. We see each of our annual conferences, along with many of our other events, as a chance to educate mainstream companies about who and what LGBT businesses are, and how we can mutually benefit each other.”
Kick-off for the event was provided by LGBT entrepreneur and fitness phenom Shaun Thompson, better known as Shaun T, who gave the keynote address. Shaun is the creator of the Focus 25 and breakthrough INSANITY workout routines. The latter debuted in 2009 and is still the number 1 selling infomercial on TV. Also addressing participants was U.S. investor, philanthropist and television personality Marcus Lemonis. The star of CNBC’s primetime hit reality series The Profit, Lemonis lends his expertise to numerous struggling small businesses, helping them achieve profitability and growth.
One of the conference highlights was the Women’s Business Initiative luncheon featuring Beth Brooke-Marciniak, professional services firm Ernst & Young’s Global Vice Chair of Public Policy, and Judy Dlugacz, the founder and president of Olivia, lesbian travel agency. Brooke-Marciniak, named by Forbes Magazine as one of the 100 Most Powerful Women in the World, shared her personal story of coming out later in life, as well as what it’s like to be one of the highest ranking out people in corporate America. Dlugacz shared insights on how to address sustainable growth for entrepreneurs and avoid decisions that can be catastrophic to your business.
Next year’s Business and Leadership Conference is August 11-14, 2015, at the Marriott Resort Ft. Lauderdale-Harbor Beach in Florida. For more information, visit nglcc.org.
The Chamber Means Business. For more information visit caglcc.org or facebook.com/CAGLCC. On Twitter, follow @DCLGBTBIZ.
John F. Stanton, a CAGLCC member, is a public relations and communications professional based in Northern Virginia.