Berkshire Black Economic Council head explains role in transitional committee for incoming Healey-Driscoll administration
The executive director of the Berkshire Black Economic Council has been named as a co-chair for a committee in the transition team of incoming Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey.
In late November, Governor-elect Maura Healey and Lieutenant Governor-elect Kim Driscoll announced the members of six transition policy committees as they prepare to take office in January. With two-term Republican Charlie Baker stepping aside, the Democratic ticket easily prevailed in the general election. Among the transition team advisors is A.J. Enchill, a Pittsfield native and head of the BBEC.
“The Berkshire Black Economic Council is a chamber for local Black businesses here in Berkshire County," Enchill told WAMC. "And we aid and advocate on the behalf of Berkshire County's Black businesses and entrepreneurs.”
Launched in late 2021, the BBEC has almost 100 Black businesses in its directory — a number Enchill says continues to grow every day.
“It's that technical assistance support that has been long needed by Berkshire Black entrepreneurs," he explained. "And we are now able to connect with them, and relate to them, given our experiences as Black people in Berkshire County, and give them a home base for them to build and grow their businesses through our expertise as technical assistance providers.”
The rapid expansion of the council was a happy surprise to Enchill.
“I knew that there was a number of Black businesses that existed in this area," he told WAMC. "What I didn't know is just how many. It was totally a, if you build it, they will come, sort of experience. We built this organization, and now out of the woodwork comes these entrepreneurs who need assistance and they've tried with local resources, government entities, and they've they haven't felt like their business's needs have been met in some instances. And so, here we are, able to hear them in the way that they're communicating and being able to identify resources that they could benefit from. And we're new blood, and we're a new organization that has a clean slate.”
He’ll serve as co-chair of the “jobs and a flourishing economy for all” transition committee, which is tasked with answering “how we build a dynamic economy that reduces costs for people and businesses while lifting up our workers.”
“I was asked by the LG’s office to participate in this this role," said Enchill. "And when they brought up that the major themes that came out of the campaign trail were equity and affordability and they wanted me to advocate on the behalf of the folks that we serve and the county that I was raised in, I thought it was a no brainer. I was like, yeah, sign me up.”
In his new role, Enchill will have to articulate the unique challenges of economic development in a largely rural, sparsely populated far Western Massachusetts to his fellow committee members in the more populous east.
“It's about developing a holistic approach to solving economic challenges," he said. "And to speak on that a little bit further, it means that we need to be able to provide the right frameworks and services to improve our local economy. So, for some businesses, we need to improve upon transportation services. For some businesses, what they really need is wraparound services like child care that could be afforded to their employees so they could get to work at certain hours that they couldn't fill.”
Enchill already has policies he’d like to bring forward to the transition committee.
“We could look at the work and policies that are a part of other states- Like California, for example," he said. "They have different mechanisms to support minority business enterprises that have been introduced on a state level. And here in Massachusetts, we have an opportunity to do the same thing.”
He’d also like to see greater investment in existent supplier diversity initiatives.
“We could take those models and expand upon them on a state level, and that can bridge equity and economic opportunity throughout the commonwealth,” said Enchill.
The Pittsfielder – born to immigrants from Ghana and a leader in the county’s NAACP chapter – says he’s bullish on what the future holds for Black entrepreneurialism both locally and statewide as Massachusetts prepares for its first new governor in eight years.
“We have an opportunity to take all the excitement that has been gathered around diversity, equity, inclusion, and anti-racism, and bridge Black entrepreneurs with Berkshire County as a whole," Enchill told WAMC. "And in doing so, we're bridging the socio-economic gap between Black people and white people, just to use a binary for example. And I oftentimes talk about the lingering impacts of segregation. And one way that I see that happening in today’s world is the lack of business integration between communities of color and white communities and their businesses. If we can achieve that and start doing business with one another, we can improve the socio-economic situation of minorities.”