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This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the October 9, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Onward and Upward

The Metropolitan Trenton African American Chamber of

Commerce (MTAACC) celebrates its fifth anniversary on Saturday,


12, at a dinner dance gala, "Moving Onward and Upward," at

the Trenton Marriott, at 6 p.m. Cost: $150.

John Harmon, MTAACC’s president, says "the progress as been

phenomenal." When he took over three years ago, the organization

had 20 members. It now has 150. "Merrill Lynch, Fleet, Sovereign,

Commerce, First Union," Harmon says, ticking off a list of


institutions that have joined MTAACC. Bristol-Myers Squibb is a


too, as is Janssen Pharmaceutical, PSEG, Thomas Edison State College,

and Mercer County Community College. Professional organizations and

small businesses have joined also, he says, naming a number of law

and accounting firms, architects, retailers, and construction firms.

"We’re selling mutually-beneficial relationships," says


The minority companies on whose behalf MTAACC advocates are fully

prepared to do business with corporations and government entities,

he says. The organization exists to bring qualified service providers

together with those in need of their services.

In advocating for minority companies — and preparing them to enter

into relationships with big business — MTAACC has expanded its

definition of minority. "Our mission when we started," says

Harmon, "was to increase the bottom line of African American


Now we include women and other people of color." The change was

occasioned by a realization that the groups face similar challenges.

MTAACC has expanded in other ways too. "We have members throughout

the state," says Harmon. "As far as I know," he says,

"we’re the only African American organization articulating an

economic agenda."

In speaking of this agenda, Harmon betrays a hint of frustration.

He sees Trenton’s increasing prosperity, and says minority businesses

are "being blindsided by people you think would be more


Is he speaking of politicians, government agencies, successful


businessmen? All of the above, he says.

"Businesses that are minority owned, but have achieved success,

you would think they would provide all the help they can," Harmon

says. "Opposition comes from strange places. How do we break the

cycle of individualism?"

State and local politicians have not been as helpful as they could

be, in his opinion. "When big business is doing business in


there should be early discussions to establish relationships,"

he says. Minority businesses should be aware of the opportunities,

but, he says, often they are not. "When we find out about


Harmon says, "the construction has already started. If you don’t

know, you can’t participate."

Still, there are bright spots. Of the construction of the Trenton

Marriott, Harmon says, "from a labor standpoint, they did an


job." And MTAACC is about to announce details of its participation

in a grant by the Garfield Foundation through which it will partner

with Trenton Downtown and the Trenton Technology Incubator to bring

more minority businesses into the downtown area.

At its fifth anniversary celebration MTAACC honors those who have

helped to boost minority business. Among the honorees are Yardville

National Bank, St. Francis Medical Center, Trenton Tractor &


Jeffries Heating & Air, Mark Newman, Richard Bilotti, and William

Granville Jr.

These individuals and organizations are doing what Harmon says more

must do. "We must," he says, "connect to the prosperity

of the city."

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