Michael Kelly, left, owner of Environmental Maintenance Engineers, and Dave O’Connor of the Irish American Chamber of Commerce. (Steve Perez / The Detroit News)
The recent diversification of business groups in Michigan has spawned a new chamber of commerce that taps into Metro Detroit’s Irish-American community.
The Michigan Irish American Chamber of Commerce officially launched June 1, in time for the Motor City Irish Festival in Redford Township. It held its inaugural meeting July 26 at the Gaelic League in Detroit. While founder and President Dave O’Connor, a financial consultant in Royal Oak, says he wants the chamber to be a hub of information for the Irish community, it also fits into a business pattern.
“There is a trend across the nation and in Michigan of new chambers being created or merged,” said Michigan Chamber of Commerce CEO Richard Studley, noting the formation two years ago of the Detroit-based Michigan Black Chamber of Commerce.
While the Michigan Chamber of Commerce hasn’t had any contact with the Michigan Irish American Chamber of Commerce, Studley said local or ethnic chambers help represent more firms throughout the state that otherwise aren’t involved in the statewide or national chambers. “That can be a very good thing to reflect the diversity in the business community,” he said.
The inspiration for the Irish-American chamber happened when O’Connor attended a Lakes Area Chamber.
“While there, I met people from the Chaldean Chamber of Commerce and the Asia Pacific Chamber of Commerce,” he said. “I thought to myself, ‘I wonder if there is an Irish one?'”
He found Irish chambers in Chicago, New York and Boston, but despite the 300,000 people in southeastern Michigan alone who identify themselves as of Irish descent, no Irish American chamber of commerce existed in the state.
O’Connor began to ask people in the Irish community their thoughts. “Everybody said one of two things: Either they couldn’t believe there wasn’t one already or ‘What a great idea,'” he said.
With about 24 members and growing, O’Connor said the chamber is open to all residents of Michigan and will meet in different locations to be more accessible and create more participation.
While the focus of the chamber is business and networking, O’Connor said it also will be a good source of information for those interested in Irish culture. The chamber’s website posts Irish cultural events, as well as its own networking and other activities.
“There is a huge group of people that we can tap that would probably want to get to know some of their roots and learn a little bit about the culture,” said O’Connor, who added there are 30 different nonprofit Irish cultural organizations people can find out about as members.
But connecting with other businesses remains important for some members.
“This is quite attractive to me from the perspective of having businesses with an Irish connection getting together,” said Joseph McGill, a chamber board member and an attorney and principal at Foley, Baron and Metzger law firm in Livonia.
“I didn’t see that in this marketplace.”
Anything that brings different businesses together is good for the community and the local economy, McGill said.
“The more connections you have out there, the better,” he said.
Mike Kelly, president of Environmental Maintenance Engineers, said the business focus was important to him. As president of the United Irish Society and chairman of the St. Patrick’s Day parade in the Corktown neighborhood of Detroit, Kelly said he likes the idea of extending his connection to his Irish culture to his business connections.
“Of course with all businesses in this area, it’s nice to have relationships with people,” Kelly said, “and other nationalities have chambers and they have been successful.”
Christine Snyder is a Metro Detroit freelance writer.
Michigan Irish American Chamber of Commerce
Founded: June 1 Founder and President: Dave O’Connor Contact: (231) 590-0003 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Website: michiganirishchamber.com/ Eligibility: Open to all Michigan residents, not just Irish Americans Dues: Free to political office holders. $100 individual, $200 business