The Economic Case: How Dan Jansen's Iowa LGBTQ+ Chamber of Commerce Boosts Inclusion in Iowa

June 7, 2024

Dan Jansen and Chad Johnston, board director and secretary of the Iowa LGBTQ+ Chamber of Commerce

When Dan was president and board chair for Capital City Pride, he heard a presentation from the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC). It was during this speaker series that he realized just how scarce the resources and support are in Iowa for LGBTQ+ businesses and entrepreneurs.

“LGBTQ business owners face different issues,” Dan said. “As a business owner, they can face discrimination, experience hateful reactions, things of that nature. And they’re concerned about how anti-LGBTQ legislation impacts their businesses and the Iowa economy.”

Dan filled that need by founding the Iowa LGBTQ+ Chamber of Commerce. As the board director for the chapter, he works to advance the common interests of Iowa LGBTQ+ business owners and their allies.

The establishment of an Iowa chapter is timely, as Iowa lawmakers continue to introduce and pass state legislation that opposes basic rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and other queer identities. The chamber utilizes the economic case to help Iowans see why this legislation negatively impacts our entire state.

“We want to think that everyone just believes in human rights and at their core don’t want to take away privileges from any group. But in reality, that’s just not true,” Dan said. “You have to identify the points that are important to everybody and talk the language everybody talks. We’ve identified that economics and workforce are those talking points that politicians in the state of Iowa care about.”

The chamber is playing a crucial role in gathering data on what Iowa loses when the government tells the LGBTQ+ community their rights won’t be protected here.

“There hasn’t been a mechanism for gathering that information until now,” Dan said, explaining the data collection process. When members of the chamber receive their Business Enterprise Certification as an LGBTQ-owned business for free (it costs $900 for nonmembers), they submit tax information, which allows NGLCC to calculate the contributions made to the Iowa economy.

“Having the potential to capture that information and use it in legislative sessions is powerful,” Dan said. “It’s already gained a lot of attention about how our economy is being impacted.”

The numbers have yet to be calculated for our state. But nationwide, LGBTQ+ businesses contributed $1.7 trillion to the country’s GDP.

“That number comes with recognition and a seat at the table,” Dan said.

Dan and the chamber are working to build that measurement mechanism in the state of Iowa. They’ve divided the state into eight regions and have been hosting launch events in each of them, meeting and learning from local businesses to tailor chamber activities to the needs of each. The goal is to reach businesses in all corners of the state and ensure they all get the support they need from the chamber.

They have a goal of 200 members by the end of 2024 and are cognizant that the Des Moines headquarters can’t represent the rest of the state.

“We want to establish leadership and committees throughout the state,” Dan said. “I don’t want to have an organization that is only operated out of Des Moines. There are so many needs and issues in rural communities and counties that we can’t see or understand.”

As the chamber continues to grow, they’re focusing on providing different educational, mentoring, and grant opportunities to Iowa businesses that may not have been tuned in to the offerings from the greater NGLCC. They recently announced a grant from NGLCC and GrubHub that will provide $5,000-$35,000 grants to LGBTQ+ bars and restaurants. In the three years the grant has been in operation, only one Iowa business has applied.

NGLCC also offers theme-related educational resources, such as information about how to best support transgender employees during Transgender Awareness Month. The information is even funneled to other local chambers of commerce.

“We have collaborations with the Urbandale and West Des Moines Chambers of Commerce right now,” said Dan. “They didn’t have the experience and knowledge about LGBTQ communities or businesses that they wanted.”

The collaborations, and the expansion of the Iowa LGBTQ+ Chamber of Commerce, offer Dan and his colleagues a chance to connect with more people about the economic and workforce impact of LGBTQ+ communities. The more people understand their communities, the more inclusive Iowa can become.

“I always say visibility is education,” Dan said. “Anytime we can be visible, it helps educate people who may not be very familiar with our community.”

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