New Leadership Steps in at D.C. Chamber of Commerce

Barrington M. Salmon | 12/22/2011, 2:20 p.m.
Economy, Growth and Unemployment Dominate Remarks...

"If you're going to be competitive, here or in Bangalore, you need employees, trained employees and consumers," he said. "African-Americans and Hispanics must be able to become consumers. To do that, they need a job. We have to have people working to buy what we produce."

Johnson, whose company owns or controls a diverse portfolio of companies in the automotive, equity, hotel, real estate, financial services, film production and gaming industries, suggested policies and ideas he thinks would open up the country's economy and bring more minorities into the business pool. These include "offering tax certificates to white companies to increase the innovative participation" of minorities in these companies and industries; encouraging the participation of more minorities by helping them get equity stakes of less than 51 percent in businesses; and encouraging local governments to allow minorities to get access to capital without giving up equity.

"This deduction in capital gains is an inducement to invest because of the higher yield when they [companies] sell," he said of the tax certificates. "It will create more minority businesses, increase access to capital and lead to diversity of content and owners. They [policymakers] should include any sector in the economy. "

Matt J. Klein, the chamber's newly elected board chairman, reminded guests - who included Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D), City Administrator Allen Lew, Councilmember Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), Alexandria Mayor William Euille, Ben's Chili Bowl owner Virginia Ali, other council members, and a other business, civic and social leaders - of the chamber's importance.

"The chamber matters because it is the business voice for 1,700 businesses," Klein, president of Akridge, said in brief remarks. "It is the economic engine of the city and no other organization is closer to the pulse of Washington business than the chamber."

Akridge has real estate holdings throughout the District.

Furthermore, added Klein, the chamber remains involved in regulatory tax relief, enhancing and attracting business to the city, strategy planning, business development, assisting small businesses and public policy advocacy and education.

Former Mayor Anthony A. Williams offered remarks which centered on issues locally. He called it "doing color commentary on the government."

"There are storm clouds on the horizon and life is hard for this city," he said. "The Financial Times has a series of article this week entitled, 'America Going Forward' looking at the country writ large. The financial downturn and recovery is lengthening, and the quality of jobs is decreasing. The number one imperative for business, labor and political leaders is how to cultivate a climate for the growth, maintenance and nurturing of small businesses which are the keys to future growth."

Williams, 60, a graduate of Yale and Harvard and who served two terms, said city officials need to encourage employees to take risks if the outcome will lead to ideas that enhance their jobs and the work environment, and he also said government officials needed to help employees not be afraid of change.

The District's former chief executive echoed a theme heard often in local government, democracy and statehood circles about built-in and other inequalities with which the city grapples.