Workforce, Immigrants, and DEI – What Owners Need to Know – Tae Chong

Maine has a workforce problem. Although no one solution will fix it all, today we speak with Tae Chong about how immigrants and a healthy approach to DEI can make a big difference for your business and for Maine.

Have you noticed all the help wanted signs out there? Retail stores and restaurants have taken to reducing hours or even temporarily shutting down, just because they don’t have enough people to work.

Well, we can’t solve Maine’s workforce problem overnight, or with just one solution, but in today’s episode we’re going to look at one underutilized source for filling those vacancies in Maine and in your company.

Rich: My guest today is the owner of a multicultural marketing business called FOB Thinking, fresh out of the box thinking. He is a consultant to Maine businesses around DEI marketing and workforce strategies. His clients include Hannaford, infinity Federal Credit Union, Korea Software, Pulse Software, and the Maine State Chamber.

He has over 25 years of DEI work as an educator, program director, business counselor, and economic development director. He was the first Asian elected to the Portland City Council and to the Portland School Committee.

Today, we’re going to be talking about what you need to know about the importance of multicultural markets, minorities, immigrants, people of color, and everything to do with workforce here in the state of Maine with Tae Chong. Tae, welcome to the program.

Tae: Thank you, Rich. That was a great setup. We can solve all the DEI issues in 60 minutes or less. That’s fantastic.

Rich: If we can’t do it, nobody can. All right. So Tae, I just want to start off, what was your first ever job?

Tae: My first ever job was picking weeds out of my next door neighbor’s lawn for like a dollar an hour. And I realized this is not fair. That’s a lot of work for a kid to do for like a whole hour to get a whole dollar. So I started doing paper routes and other types of things like that. So that was a little bit better.

Rich: All right. Sounds good. So you and I were talking a little bit about multicultural markets, and so I’d like you to kind of define what you mean by that. And also let’s talk about what Maine businesses are missing out of when we’re not paying attention or not thinking with that multicultural market mindset.

Tae; Well, the multicultural market means basically the growing diversity population in the United States. And Maine is one of the most homogeneous populations in the nation. So we have more Caucasians than almost any other race here. But, you know, for a long time we thought that was our worldview. But the whole world is changing, the whole country is changing, and even Maine is changing. And the purchasing power or the ability to purchase things after taxes, you know, the amount of money that is left on the table by not selling products and service to these populations is huge. And it’s going to be bigger as the populations get bigger and bigger each year.

So currently in the state of Maine, we’re leaving about two and a half billion dollars on the table for not focusing our services and products to people of color living in Maine. And just in the tri-state area in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine, it’s $95 million. Which in contrast to the total purchasing power of everyone living in Maine, which is one and a half times bigger than the entire state’s economy. So when we don’t sell to this population, we lose out.

And the other piece is that as we’re selling products and services to these populations, we’re branding Maine. We have amazing companies and amazing services, and our product qualities are world-class. The more they are familiar with Maine and the more likely they’re willing to visit and maybe purchase homes here or vacation homes, or possibly relocate here. So we need to be able to do that because by 2040, half of this country is going to be multicultural. Right now the multicultural population, multi-racial population in the United States is a hundred million people. And that purchasing power is almost fortunately in dollars about the same size as Germany. And if Maine doesn’t focus on that, it’s like missing out on a third of the country’s potential sales and services.

Rich: So the first section here is we talk about multicultural markets. What we’re really talking about in fact is we’re just not set up or we’re not thinking about selling to a multicultural consumer base. And if we start thinking this way, obviously we’re opening up markets, we don’t even have to go and start selling overseas or anything. We just suddenly both in here in the state of Maine, as well as outside the state of Maine, we’re going to be opening up brand new markets that are easy to ship to, easy to work with, whatever it is. And there’s not a lot of barriers, at least from a logistical standpoint, to open up what we’re selling to that more multicultural marketplace. Is that correct?

Tae: Exactly. That’s exactly what I’ve been, yeah, you said it perfectly. I couldn’t have said it any better.

Rich: So if somebody is listening and they’re living up in the County, they’re living somewhere where there’s just not as much diversity. And let’s face it, we talked about this right before we hit the record button today, Maine is currently the whitest state in the nation, right? It’s sometimes we’re number one, sometimes we’re two or three. But the bottom line is we have a very homogenous populace here. And sometimes we think that this is what the world looks like, but it absolutely does not.

So with that being said, if somebody’s out in a place where they really are not seeing a diverse audience and they’re like, this does not impact me, what would you say to that business owner?

Tae: Well, we’re all connected. So, you know, whether it’s someone in the County, they can start to look at what types of produce that could be sold in multicultural populations. I did a food study when I was at CEI, and one of the things that we looked at was ethnic produce. And, you know, one of the things that the County could look at is, are there produce that we could grow in the state of Maine that we could sell to Boston because there’s almost 2 million people of color living in the Boston area. About almost one and a half million immigrants live in the tri-state area. And so one of the things that we discovered was, sweet potatoes that could be grown potentially in the County is a very precious and profitable commodity. Because not only are the sweet potatoes products that immigrants eat in particular, almost all races eat. So from Africa to Latin America, to Asia, all those communities eat the sweet potatoes. But the Chinese Americans also eat the plant itself. And so the entire product could be sold.

So that’s where the state and UMaine system could look at those types of produce and say, what are the four or five things that we can grow here and be competitive and be able to sell. So when you do that, then the banking industry is also involved because now you got to figure out how do we grow these things? And then the marketing departments and graphic designers are also involved because they’ve got to have the right messaging and be able to sell it to the right consumers living in the Boston area. Then you have translators. So just that one product alone can affect four or five industries. And if we do it collaboratively and cohesively, we can make a big difference. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

It can be from produce. It could be also to seafood. Ben Martins and I are looking into doing a research project with just the Cambodian population in the Northeast, there’s 30,000 Cambodians living in Lowell, Massachusetts. And the reason why that number is important is because Cambodians eat almost 94 pounds of seafood a year. And the average Mainer eats less than 20 pounds a year. So if we could figure out how to sell more groundfish or lobsters to the Cambodians living in Lowell, Massachusetts, there’s over 10 grocery stores that cater to the Cambodian population. But there’s also Market Baskets and other types of venues where Cambodians also shop. So we could influence the seafood product placement down there in Lowell, Massachusetts. And the great thing is that we also have about 2,000 Cambodians living in Maine, and we could survey them and find out which ground fish are they eating, when are they eating lobsters, and get some intelligence and get some insight and be able to kind of convince and persuade the Cambodians living in Lowell, Massachusetts. And then we could go on and on to travel, to cars, insurance, everything.

Rich: All right, so let’s say I’m a company and I’m like, “Oh wow, Tae, you just opened my mind. I hadn’t thought about any of those things before. So what can I do as an individual company? I know the state can help me or I can hire… what could I do to really start thinking about how do I reach all these diverse audiences with what I have to offer?

Tae: Well, the first thing you have to do is figure out where are you selling those products? Is it in proximity to, is it feasible for you to sell those products if you take a truck or bring down products, or is it something online? A lot of it has to do with just the logistical piece.

The second piece is understanding the cultural language of how to sell those products. So that’s where multicultural marketing experts come into play, and where DEI experts come into play, and say, all right, these are things that you need to say in the right way so that you don’t offend anybody, but also be able to draw an audience. And that takes a special lens and skill to do. But it’s really doing an internal assessment of what are you selling, and then hiring someone and saying, is this something that a population is selling and are they close to home and how do we get there? And that kind of strategic planning and consulting is the first step.

Rich: Are there things is that I should be doing internally to my company to make us more attractive to a multicultural market? Obviously, I love the idea of the sweet potato, right? So just running with that idea. So I’m already growing sweet potatoes, or I have the capability of growing sweet potatoes. No problem. But is the outside world going to be looking at me to kind of practice what I preach, or should I be positioning myself in a certain way? What advice do you have to companies in that regard?

Tae: Well, there’s a swath of strategies for different types of products and services. So if it’s a relationship type of business, like banking, insurance, or financial planning, you have to have the right staff and you have to have the right welcoming culture. If you’re just dropping off a product, that’s a whole different scenario, right? There’s very little relationship. It’s more of a brokering piece and finding someone to be a mediator and a good connector. That’s where that comes into play. So you really have to do an internal assessment of how much are you touching your audience and how often are you talking to your audience? And what is the length and duration of your relationship, your discussions. That’s the first thing you have to figure out.

I also think that there are certain, the reason why Maine State Chamber is such a great place to talk about multicultural markets is that we have flagship businesses in Maine that could really open the doors for all the other companies. So I love LL Bean, almost all of my clothes are LL Bean. If my LL Bean was more multicultural in how they sold their products, it’s almost like inviting other people to follow suit.

So for example, not to beat up on LL Bean, because DEI is a brand new issue, it’s kind of a new market for them. But I just got the most recent LL Bean men’s catalog and it’s great, it’s more multicultural than it’s ever been, but it’s only black and white. All the models are primarily African-American or white. But the research shows that Asian Americans make about $10,000 more per year than white Americans, and their clothing budget is 20% higher than white Americans. And their purchasing power in the tri-state area is over $30 billion. So if LL Bean catered to that population, you can draw Asians to purchase LL Bean products. They could come up to Maine to experience the LL Bean experience, maybe go on an expedition, learn to fly fish, maybe purchase a summer home or vacation here.

The same is also true for the Hispanic population, LatinX population. Their per packet of income is less than white Americans by about 20%, but their clothing budget is about the same. So to me, it makes sense to sell products to Asians and Hispanics in the catalog, but perhaps also you could start to alter your clothing line to be more attractive to that population as well. And that is almost a $60 billion purchasing power just in the tri-state area. And then you can multiply it across the country. But for me, that is such a gettable thing to do to work with those large communities. Just work with a demographer, you can figure out where they’re living and do some of that kind of outreach to those populations. And when LL Bean becomes kind of the welcoming flagship, then other companies will follow us, too.

So, you know, I see LL Bean is one of the great companies, WEX could be another one. Unum could be another one. All these big companies in Maine can set the bar for other midsize and smaller companies. But the big companies would kind of need to be the leader to do those kinds of things.

Rich: You mentioned earlier that some of the steps you talked about was a first step. So before we maybe move on to any other topics, what other advice would you give to businesses that are suddenly aware that there’s a multi-cultural marketplace out there and a real opportunity to grow their sales?

Tae: I think the first step is hiring the right staff when it comes to DEI. We needed to have DEI in the HR department, obviously, people need to feel welcome and safe and that’s great. But DEI work should not stop there. DEI is really about finding opportunities and creating new relationships. And so the sales team, the marketing team, the advertising team should be very multicultural because that message needs to resonate to a multicultural fabric. If your marketing team and sales team is not multicultural, you’re missing out on people, and that messaging is not going to reach them.

And so in my research, what I’ve discovered is that even Nielsen, some of these big companies that do marketing research, they still haven’t figured out how to categorize multicultural populations. Nielsen has like 68 different categories of different types of consumers, but they only had four for multicultural populations. That’s a hundred million people. You can’t expect a hundred million people to behave in a certain way.

They had one category called the ‘multicultural family’, and in that it’s supposed to represent all the immigrants in America and they kind of give you a baseline of what they might purchase. They said things like people in this demographic will purchase chicken, and drive a Nissan, and they watch Telemundo. That’s like saying that my immigrant mom is going to watch Telemundo. So they have it completely wrong. But then they’ve got specialized categories for people who wear camos and they drive RVs, or they might be a Mayberry retiree, someone who used to live in a city and goes to a small town.

So the DEI work is brand new, and we’re all going to make mistakes. But in going forward, you’ve got to look at it in a positive and also in an introspective way. And a positive way really comes from creating new relationships and having the right message. And I think if you want to really explore DEI markets, it really comes down to having a strategic planner that looks at opportunities as well as making sure that they’re doing the internal work.

Rich: So before I hit the record button today, you said DEI is sometimes seen as punitive. So can you unpack that for me a little bit, and maybe talk about your approach to DEI, that I’m assuming is less about punitive measures and more about inclusion and under a much more positive light?

Tae: Well, what I meant by punitive is that diversity, equity, inclusion is such a difficult conversation and people are afraid to offend them. We feel we have to have the right language, the right policy. And when you focus on just having the right language and policy without seeing the value when creating the relationships, other than this is the moral thing to do, and I’m going to in a hundred percent agreement with all that.

But I’ve been doing this work for a long time and like I said, it’s a brand new field. There aren’t many. I might be the only person that I know of that’s really talking about DEI as an opportunity. Where if you do the work to create new relationships, all that stuff that we talked about, not offending someone is going to follow suit. Because if I want to sell a product or a service to you, I don’t want to offend you. So I’m naturally going to do the DEI. And if I’m going to hire a person of color to be my sales team, I want to make sure that person is compensated and that person has the right skills and the support systems they need to succeed, because they’re creating new revenue streams. So now I’m doing DEI work that way.

What we tend to do with DEI is a company will say, “We have a new position open. Let’s make sure that we have a diverse pool of candidates”, which is great. But that doesn’t fall in line with you need to create an ecosystem of positive loop of why you’re doing DEI work, other than we have to do it because we want to appear equitable or politically correct or polite or not offensive. And that kind of defensive stance is counterintuitive to what an entrepreneur or business person does. An entrepreneur or business person is really about, how do I create new messages and relationships so that I can increase my opportunities for myself, for my community, and for me.

Rich: You want us to view DEI as the carrot and not as the stick.

Tae: Correct. Cause it’s fortunately in dollars out in the market right now. And this population is young, they’re growing, and they are the future workforce and consumers of America. And if we don’t see them as a carrot and opportunity, and if we don’t do it now, we’re going to be so far behind as a state and in the economy and workforce. I mean, we all know the statistics. We’re the oldest state in the nation, we have more deaths than births. Median age is 45. We need to get 75,000 more workers to be in line with the state’s 10 year plan. But more people are retiring than young people coming in. And the only population that’s growing is the multicultural population. And the young people who’ve left Maine, they expect to come back to a multicultural population, because half of all the kids in United States under the age of 18 is multicultural and racial. 40% of millennials is multicultural/multiracial, and they expect a diverse workforce. So if Maine isn’t welcoming and if we don’t have a diverse workforce, then the young kids that went away may not want to come back because it’s not as diverse as where they are.

Rich: Okay. You mentioned earlier that going after a more diverse applicant pool is a good first step. So what happens after that, in your worldview? What would be the next thing for a Maine business who really wants to do this for all the right reasons, wants to be open, inclusive, and maybe for some selfish reasons they want to do a better job because they want to sell to a wider variety of people. Whatever their reasons behind it may be. Once we’ve moved past reaching a wider applicant pool, what can we do next to ultimately have a more inclusive workforce for ourselves?

Tae: Any workforce that is inclusive has integrity and good intentions, but also has good support systems. And so, you’re a business owner. If you wanted to grow your business and you want it to have more employees, you want to make sure that you’re hiring people that’s going to be in line with your business line. Right? So your culture is going to change based on the number of people that’s going to come in. You might have 20 employees, and for some reason, you’ve got 10 people from out of state and they all like the Yankees. Now the culture of the office is they like the Yankees. But the bottom line is, if there are good workers, it doesn’t really matter.

Diversity is really about figuring out what kind of skills people have and being open to the skills that they have. And being open to the fact that the skills that you thought you needed may not be needed, because they might be bringing other skills that you realize were invaluable to you.

And what happens with a lot of hires in Maine is that they will hire a person in a department to say, now our work is done. And being someone from the outside mainstream culture, you’re a Yankees fan and you come into a Boston Red Sox world, you’re going to be an outside person. I mean, that’s just a scratch on the surface. I’m not trying to demean the experiences of racial minorities. Obviously, I’ve experienced that. But to try to figure out how to fit into the mainstream culture is difficult. It’s easier if the mainstream culture says we’re open to whatever culture is out there.

And in order for that successful person to succeed, you have to create an infrastructure and support system for them to work. So that means their direct supervisors should be their biggest ally. Because what we tend to do is we hire someone and we say, you must do X, Y, and Z outputs, otherwise you’re not going to be successful. But if you’re dealing with trying to figure out how to fit in, and it might be a different culture, maybe you have a different language and then you throw in race. Maybe it’s gender or LGBTQ or other types of issues that you’re also carrying. You’re doing a lot of internal work just to meet those outputs. So the supervisor needs to figure out, okay, what can I do to make this person feel comfortable and welcoming and be their consistent ally, rather than kind of looking at the world in a traditional way.

The best model would be to hire multiple people so that there’s a support system. So it’s better to hire say three people of color in the accounting department, as opposed to one person. Or three people in the marketing team, as opposed to one, because now the culture isn’t about that one person, but it’s they have a bigger influence on the overall culture and the likelihood of succeeding is greater.

And this is a model that colleges and universities use all the time. It’s called the ‘posse model’. A posse model is what happened was colleges across the country, especially high-performing colleges and universities with large financial endowments, wanted to give scholarships to students of color and students in poverty. And they would always pick the best and brightest from one neighborhood. When that kid went back home, they felt like an outcast because nobody in their neighborhood went to Bowdoin or Bates. And when they go to a Bowdoin or Bates, no one knows what it’s like to be a poor kid from an inner city or from rural Maine. Because there was a large percentage of kids who might be coming from affluence. But if you create two or three friends that go along with them from the same neighborhood. The other two friends may not be as stellar, but because they’re leaning on each other, the likelihood of them succeeding goes significantly higher.

And it changes the culture of the college as well. Because now you’ve got three kids who are supporting each other, and they’ve got a bigger potential for allyship. That that to me is a model that’s been proven, it should also be the same in the workforce as well.

Rich: So I love the idea of that. But as somebody who runs a business with just 9-10 people, obviously my accounting department doesn’t have enough room for three new people. But even just the company itself, I rarely hire more than one person at a time anyways. And I’m not trying to be a pain here, but I’m just trying to push back. And there are so many small, very small businesses here in Maine, that bringing on multiple people at the same time may not be feasible. Or hiring a group of similar people, who are not similar to you, may just not be possible.

So if we do have those constraints over size or the speed of which we can hire new people, what else could we do within our company to be more inclusive, to be more supportive, to recognize that not everybody comes with the matching baggage that we have?

Tae: Well, it’s where the leadership has that DEI awareness and awakening and willing to be a champion. And so when the leadership is willing to understand the difficulties that other people bring or the baggage that they’re carrying, and they’re being sympathetic and empathetic and also really figuring out it’s really about being a really good coach and making sure that they have what they need to stay there.

And so I think a classic example that I can bring up is, maybe a lot of main companies have experienced experiences, I’m just guessing. But when you hire someone say from the south and they come to Maine, their first winter is really difficult, right? So it’s really about building community so that they get acclimated and saying there are other things to do in the wintertime besides just say, it’s not like the south. And so you become over-friendly, you create stronger relationships to become more intentional. You become more empathetic around trying to fit into that culture. Well it’s like that, plus times 10 with multicultural populations. Especially if it’s in rural Maine, as opposed to urban Maine. That kind of intentionality and integrity from the leader is what’s needed for that person to stay.

The other option is not to hire a person of color, but we know that the pool is shrinking. So you have to do the work one way or the other. The other piece is that doing that intentional work and integrity work is what millennials and Gen Z’s expect. And so we have to do that regardless. So much of this is really about if you are a business leader, you have to do the diversity equity inclusion work yourself, and then try to figure out how to be a really good coach. I mean, that’s what it comes down to. It comes down to having a really good emotional intelligence to practice it.

Rich: It sounds like I’m going to, and we have not at flyte, I’m just going to be transparent here. I don’t think that we’ve had a very good track record of hiring a diverse workforce over the years. A couple of people here or there over the course of 24 years, nothing that I could be proud of, and certainly something I continue to work on. But it sounds like as I do this work, what I need to do and what any business owner needs to do is almost over welcome or over support these people and just ask the questions, like, what do you need to succeed here? Is that the right approach, or am I going too much? You know, I don’t want to also be, going so overboard that it feels false or phony. And I know I’m putting you here on the spot, Tae, to answer the question for all people of color or immigrants that I ever may hire.

Tae: Every situation, every different personality. Yeah. I know.

Rich: Every single person is their own person, but obviously we do have some shared background experiences.

Tae: I think it’s about intentionality, integrity, and listening, and having emotional intelligence. You can gauge whether someone needs that support or not. It’s really about when your supervisor and the leadership is making those personal connections and showing that you care, you can then figure out whether they need more support or not. But that initial contact is what’s critical and that consistent checking is what’s critical and that’s just good practice for all employees, regardless of whether they are a person of color or not.

So I guess my push back to you is, of the 24 years that you’ve been around, how many multicultural businesses or people of color have you served?

Rich: Not many. If I’m being transparent. Certainly, there’ve been a few in some of the bigger companies, But it’s, especially here in Maine, and I’ve always said it’s because we’re the whitest state. But maybe that’s a cheap out.

Tae: Right. And I think one begets the other. So I think if you are intentional about wanting to get into this market, maybe there’s some pro bono work or other types of business where you target multicultural businesses to assist them. And then as you build those relationships, you’ll find people who might be good candidates to be your employees. Because it becomes top of mind rather than seasonal or kind of like a seminal moment like George Floyd last year.

If it’s not top of mind, you’re not going to see the opportunities. And as a business person, you know that. So you know that if you want to get into a specific sector, you got to do the work and be intentional and you’ve gotta be consistent with it, otherwise you’ll just forget it.

Rich: Tae, let’s say we’ve expanded our workforce applicant pool. We become as accommodating and welcoming as we possibly can. Obviously, everybody has a desire to advance in their careers. Can you give us any sort of advice on how we can support the growth of immigrants in our workforce or people of color in our workforce? Because it seems like a lot of times you read stories about people got hired and then they hit a glass ceiling, and sometimes those glass ceilings are set pretty low.

Tae: It goes back to the leadership’s integrity intention. If the leadership has this as top of mind and they want to promote people of color, just like they did for women back in the seventies, eighties and nineties, women weren’t promoted. They weren’t seen as C-suite material. We know that was an absolute fallacy and it’s not true. But you had certain mentors were willing to make it happen and they were intentional about it and they had the integrity to follow through. The same is also true for people of color. If you find the right candidate and you’re intentional about it, then your integrity is that you will follow through on your promises, those things will go away.

So I think, no, unfortunately there aren’t many companies that I can think of in the Fortune 500 companies – I’m sure there’s a bunch of people who are going to say it’s not true – that have a model board or C-suite. There aren’t many. But it’s doable in smaller companies. It’s more doable if the leadership is willing to do the work and willing to follow through. That’s what it really comes down to.

I think the closest example that we can see right now is the Biden administration. They were intentional about hiring a diverse cabinet. And when that happens, you’ll see more and more people being engaged and more opportunities. That kind of intentionality has to also be transferred at our Maine businesses, whether it’s smaller, bigger, or large.

Rich: So funny that you mentioned that because as you talked about the Fortune 500 boardrooms, immediately I started thinking about Biden’s cabinet. Because it feels like he has gone above and beyond, even what he promised, as far as really trying to have as diverse a group of people that he could lean on and talk to as possible. So I’m glad you brought that up.

Before we let you go today, I did want to talk to you a little bit about the fact, you know, we’ve talked a lot about what business owners and leaders in the community can do, which has a lot of benefit for as we, we started off with the multicultural markets and then we talked about workforce issues. But I always think of entrepreneurship, and maybe it’s just that I’ve hung my hat too much on this ideal, but I love the idea of people creating something new, especially when they are new to the country or new to an area that they make something their own. What is the role of entrepreneurship in Maine, especially as far as DEI and immigration goes, is there a role there? And if so, what can the state, or what can other businesses be doing to support that?

Tae: Absolutely. As you know, immigrants are twice as likely to start a business compared to other populations. And there was a program that I researched in Massachusetts, I apologize the name escapes me, but basically what they were trying to do is make sure that that foreign exchange students didn’t leave Harvard and MITs of the world to go start up in another country, in their home country.

And so basically what they wanted is to make sure that these students who are graduating from the best colleges and universities in the United States, perhaps in the world, and it’s the medicine cabinet of the world where there’s more medical investments, venture capital investments, in the Boston area than any other place in the world. And Boston rivals Silicon Valley as the highest concentration of venture capital investments. So Deval Patrick, the Governor, created a program where he said, let’s create an H1B visa program so that these people stay. And if they create a business, we’ll give them a green card so they can be here. And that, to me, is one of the ways that we can do. And I think [inaudible] is on his way to kind of do that.

But we have over 600 people in Maine that have H1B visas, and many of them working are some of our most important industries in companies like the  Wex’s and Maine Medical Centers of the world. And we should treat people who have H1 visas with technical degrees as gold, because we tried to create more people with IT experiences, and we just simply couldn’t do it. But if somebody has that degree, we should try to keep them here.

There’s also 10,000 students of color that are participating in our colleges and universities. We got to figure out how to create more entrepreneurship and have them become better residents here.

And then the third piece is we have almost 100,000 people of color, almost half of them are immigrants and refugees. There are lots of programs that are supporting them, whether it’s CEI StartSmart or Community Concepts, or other types of business counseling programs. But there is no one of color or bilingual, immigrant refugee business counselors. I think ProsperityME was just beginning to hire somebody.

You know, this is where the state of Maine and SBA and SCORE could be intentional about, well there’s 10,000 college students. How many of them have business degrees? Can we mentor them to become business counselors and work within their communities to grow the entrepreneurial spirit. And probably the biggest space where you could work with the entrepreneurial population and the immigrant refugee populations is women. And so if you could find a business counselor that speaks Arabic and French, because that’s such a underserved and kind of underrepresented immigrant refugee business population, that’s a place to start.

And this is where Melissa Smith of the Wex’s of the world, and other big companies who have important women CEOs, could sponsor and help create those kinds of pathways for business counselors that are multicultural and bilingual.

Those are some of the things that I can think of off the top of my head. But it really comes down to, I believe, it goes back to intentionality and top of mind. If we talk about it and we think about it and we practice it, it’s going to happen. If we don’t, it’s not going to happen.

Rich: Awesome. Thank you, Tae. We ask all the guests here on the program to answer this question, and I’m curious to hear your answer. What one thing would you change if you could to improve the business ecosystem here in Maine?

Tae: Multicultural markets, to see it as an opportunity and to really talk about it and practice it every day. Because if we don’t, we’re going to miss out on a $4 trillion market. And almost half the country’s population as potential workers, potential homeowners, potential vacationers. That’s the thing that I’d like to see happen.

Rich: Awesome. Tae, if people want to learn more about FOB Thinking, if they want to connect with you, where can we send them online?

Tae: It’s taechong.com. I just put up a website. I just got my LLC like two weeks ago, so I’m building my website. I should be calling you for a website.

Rich: We’ll talk afterwards.

Tae: Okay. Sounds good. Well, that’s a great place to start. And then just my email is tae.y.chong@gmail.com

Rich: Awesome. And we will have all those links in the show notes, so be sure to check those out. Tae, thank you very much for coming by. Today was a great conversation, I’m glad you shared all your thoughts with us.

Tae: Thank you so much, Rich. Thank you for this opportunity.