Natalie's Everyday Heroes: Ossie Kendrix, CEO of the African American Chamber of Commerce of WI
MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Ossie Kendrix is making it his mission to help entrepreneurs in Milwaukee’s African American community. He’s the president and CEO of the African American Chamber of Commerce of Wisconsin, and the organization has a major project underway to create coworking space to launch new businesses.
He also hasn’t let the pandemic or a move across the country get in his way.
“It's been pretty seamless,” Kendrix said over Zoom from his new home base in Dallas, Texas.
He’s overseeing construction of the brand new Legacy Coworking and Innovation Space on Martin Luther King Drive in Milwaukee. Inside, signs of construction are everywhere.
“When people come in, this will be the first thing that they see,” said Jona Moore, showing off the entryway. Moore is the program manager for the AACC, which is behind the 4,000 square foot project.
When the space opens next year, people working to launch their own businesses will come here for work space, educational opportunities and even financing.
“Branding, marketing, finances, creating the entrepreneur mindset,” Moore said of the goals.
Inside, there are offices, conference rooms and much more.
“So this area here will be our corner bakery,” Moore said, showing off the café area.
Kendrix picked the location for its accessibility, and it was a complete buildout from there.
“When we picked this space, there was absolutely nothing in it,” Moore said.
There is also a commercial kitchen incubator being built inside for people working to start their own baking businesses.
“It's 900 square feet, so we'll have six tables or stations set up,” Moore said.
And while Moore is on the ground in Milwaukee, Kendrix is overseeing the project, with the help of technology.
“I consider it to be business as usual, really,” he said. “This is what I eat and sleep about is ensuring success for entrepreneurs.”
It’s all happening from Dallas, where he moved in September. He talked to CBS 58 over Zoom.
“We're 100% virtual. I still have ongoing communication with my key staff members. We meet weekly, via Zoom,” Kendrix said.
Kendrix grew up in the city, and was inspired by his grandmother, Mary Gee Clemons, who ran a car wash. She also had a favorite saying.
“If you can't find a job, make a job,” Kendrix said with a smile. “And I believe that I've done just that, and can show entrepreneurs how to do just that as well.”
Moore said it’s a story she’s heard before, and it resonates.
“He shares that all the time,” she said with a laugh. “That is his favorite story to share and it's very, very true.”
Kendrix raised a million dollars to complete the full build-out of the Legacy Center. It got a big boost from former Milwaukee County executive, Chris Abele, who pledged $300,000 to the project.
“We walked away from that meeting with him believing in the project and what was possible,” Kendrix said of Abele.
And Kendrix believes a lot is possible.
“The city means to me, hope,” he said. “What keeps me optimistic about Milwaukee is just that.”
The Chamber hopes to launch 80 businesses out of the Legacy space over the next three years.
“That's the importance of entrepreneurship and the beauty of it,” Moore said. “If you don't have a job, you can make one for yourself, doing that thing that you actually love to do.”
It’s a lasting legacy for years to come.
“I want to ensure that the African American Chamber is a part of that entrepreneurial synergy, that we continue to be progressive,” Kendrix said.
Moore said Kendrix’s impact is already being felt.
“Ossie, he's a staple in the community,” she said. “He's made a huge impact to entrepreneurs, to his colleagues, and to everyone around him.”
Kendrix is busy travelling back and forth between Milwaukee and Dallas. He hopes to have the space open early next year, and it will also house the AACC’s offices. The Chamber is hosting it’s “Breakfast of Champions” fundraiser, virtually, on Wednesday, Dec. 16.
For information on that and other programs the organization offers, visit https://www.aaccwi.org/.
If you’d like to nominate someone for Natalie’s Everyday Heroes, send Natalie a message at [email protected].