Buying Power 

A GLBT chamber of commerce offers an alternative for business owners.

The gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered (GLBT) community may be a minority, but they do some major spending.

Before 2006 is over, gays and lesbians will inject an estimated $641 billion into the national economy, according to the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC).

That's why local business owners Jeff Childress and Rick Johns have formed the Memphis GLBT Chamber of Commerce, an organization designed to promote economic growth for gay-owned and gay-friendly businesses.

"In Memphis alone, gays and lesbians have $4.3 billion in purchasing power," says Childress, owner of Lifeline Consultants, a health-care risk-management business. "The potential economic impact on businesses that are friendly towards our community is our priority."

Childress' figures are based on the county population of 1.2 million, 10 percent of whom are gay or lesbian, with an average disposable income of $35,807.

Childress and R.P. Tracks restaurant co-owner Johns founded the chamber in August. After realizing they couldn't find a comprehensive list of gay-owned businesses in the area, they contacted the NGLCC.

"The community was ripe for this," says Childress. "I think people saw a need but never did anything collectively."

Membership runs the gamut, according to Johns, including bankers, lawyers, doctors, and restaurateurs. Once their website is up and running, Childress says it will include a business directory of members to help local consumers patronize GLBT-friendly businesses.

Brian Brown owns Taylor-Maid Cleaning. He joined the chamber shortly after its formation and says it's much needed. "[Gays and lesbians] are not just hanging out in bars all the time," says Brown. "We're out there making a living and providing services, and now we're getting some recognition."

Besides offering a place for members to network, Johns says the chamber will focus on same-sex-partner benefits and non-discrimination policies at area businesses.

They've already assembled a Corporate Equality Index rating local companies on gay-friendly factors. Topping the list for supportive businesses are Nike, Schering-Plough, and International Paper.

For now, most of the local GLBT chamber's members are gays and lesbians, but Childress says he'd like to see more straight-owned businesses become members.

"Our foremost goal is to be an inclusive chamber of commerce," says Childress.

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