Zenger News is joining forces with the National Newspaper Publishers Association to host its inaugural virtual Tech Conference 2021, this Wednesday, Feb. 24 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. (EST).
The conference is expected to bring together a cross-section of minority small-business owners, industry stakeholders and technology leaders to provide education and networking opportunities around leveraging technology, particularly in the midst of a global pandemic.
The agenda consists of 13 subject-specific sessions facilitated by experts and a keynote address by U.S. Rep. Yvette D. Clarke (D-N.Y.). Clarke, who sits on the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, will address how Congress is looking to create more opportunities for ethnic minority- and women-owned businesses across the country.
“The biggest hurdle for small black businesses is having access to opportunity as it relates to technology,” said Andre Johnson, Zenger vice president, sales and distribution. “We hope the conference will provide a tremendous networking opportunity for business owners to connect with African American tech professionals that are leaders in the industry.”
Launched in 2019, Zenger provides wire stories to news outlets for low or no up-front costs and shares advertising revenue with those outlets. The newspaper group is the national trade association representing the 230 African-American newspapers and media companies in the United States.
“We are very pleased to join with Zenger to produce Tech Conference 2021,” said Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., the association’s president and chief executive officer. “We want to encourage African-American businesses, as well as other minority businesses, to take advantage of the latest innovations in technology to help make their businesses more sustainable in the marketplace.”
The nationwide impact of COVID-19 underscores the urgency for black and brown business owners to fully exploit the latest tech tools to sustain and grow their operations.
An August 2020 study released by the Service Corps Of Retired Executives, “The Megaphone of Wall Street: The Impact of COVID-19,” points out that black- and Hispanic-owned businesses were more adversely affected by the pandemic than white-owned businesses.
Only 8.8 percent of black businesses and 6.7 percent of Hispanic businesses reported profitability in 2020. Issues such as working remotely, family and/or staff infections and lack of childcare were cited as key drivers among the respondents to the online survey.
“COVID-19 has created the biggest challenge that small black businesses have had to face in the last 20 years, and virtual working has become a must for any business in this time to survive,” said Johnson.
“Especially during this prolonged COVID-19 pandemic, much of the transactions and relationship-building is done virtually, so it’s important for businesses not to pause, but to get exposure to ways to stay in business and advance their businesses,” Chavis said.
The federal government, after many years of underinvestment, is now expected to take a more assertive role in building an accessible technology infrastructure, according to a November 2020 report by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.
Among its findings, the report forecasts that the policy approach of President Joseph R. Biden’s administration “will likely be formulated to engage government as an active partner with industry in supporting [research and development]” and “expand investment to achieve social goals, such as minority opportunity.”
“The federal government must take an active role in ensuring full access to technology and innovation because we have the resources to ensure that communities that have been historically marginalized and underrepresented have a seat at the table,” said Clarke. “The Biden-Harris administration’s efforts prioritize the importance of racial equity and support for these historically marginalized and underserved communities.”
On Capitol Hill, Clarke and Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.) recently introduced the Telecommunications Skilled Workforce Act, which calls for the Federal Communications Commission and the U.S. Department of Labor to issue guidance to states addressing workforce shortages in the telecommunications industry.
“Communities of color and women are underrepresented in the telecommunications industry,” said Clarke. “This legislation is a bipartisan effort to ensure 5G technology is deployed to underserved communities and diversifying the workforce.”
Clarke is soon expected to introduce the Climate Smart Communities Act in the House, a bill she characterized as a “game changer.”
“[This bill] will ensure our technology is resilient in the face of climate change and extreme weather events, like what we have witnessed over the past week in Texas and the Midwest,” she said. “My legislation [also] directs the Department of Energy to prioritize funding towards projects that utilize women- and minority-owned businesses so that we can undergird and support the entrepreneurship of our minority business community.”
Other Tech Conference 2021 speakers and panelists include:
- Karen Carter Richards, NNPA chair and publisher, Houston Forward Times;
- Mignon Clyburn, former FCC commissioner;
- Nicole Turner Lee, senior fellow in governance studies, director of the Center for Technology Innovation, and co-editor-in-chief of Tech Tank;
- Angela Y. Ball, president, regulatory affairs, NBC Universal;
- Dana White, chief communications officer, Hyundai N.A.;
- Chris Miller, founder and CEO, Execrecruiter CA;
- Kevin Nichols, founder and CEO, The Social Engineering Project;
- Leah Pimentel, assistant director of community relations, University of California San Francisco;
- Larry Irving, founder, The Irving Group;
- Tony Rome, chief channel officer, ecoATM Gazelle;
- Jeff Joseph, president, Software and Information Industry Association;
- Sara Hale, president and co-founder, Coastal Cloud;
- Tina Vidal-Duart, executive vice president, CDR Maguire and CEO, CDR Health;
- Perry Carter, president, Black Data Processing Associates Greater Washington, D.C. chapter;
- Raymond Bell, president and CEO, Toni Thomas Associates/H.O.P.E. Project.
Hyundai N.A. is the lead sponsor for Tech Conference 2021, which will be hosted on a Digital Hollywood conference platform that provides real-time video chat capabilities.
(Edited by Matthew B. Hall and Carlin Becker)
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