California Forward is committed to advancing policy intersections that create a more inclusive and sustainable California where all people can prosper. The Voices of Shared Prosperity series amplifies the stories of Californians who are committing their time and talent to solutions that embrace equity, environmental sustainability, and economic opportunity.
This year, we’re highlighting leaders who are making a difference in the Coachella Valley and Imperial Valley regions, leading up to the 2023 California Economic Summit taking place in Indian Wells on October 11-13.
When David Powell, a fourth-generation San Franciscan, moved from the Bay Area to the Coachella Valley 12 years ago, he brought with him an impressive resume including a long career at PG&E, service on the City of Walnut Creek Planning Commission, consulting experience and as a teacher through the University of Massachusetts Global. He was teaching in-person and online classes when he found the Desert Business Association (DBA) had an opening. “I’ve always had that community spirit, that community interaction ability and networking,” said Powell.
In 2015, when he became executive director of the DBA — the LGBTQ+ chamber of commerce of the Coachella Valley — he took his community spirit and put it to work. The DBA promotes and supports more than 300 member LGBTQ+ and ally businesses in the region. This support includes business-to-business and business-to-consumer networking to ensure members have the knowledge and resources to grow and expand.
“We’re the only Chamber in the (Coachella) Valley that is focused particularly on diversity, equity and inclusion for all of our members and all of our community,” explained Powell. “And we really want to promote that and ensure that everyone is being welcome.” The DBA holds twice monthly networking events as well as workshops to build business acumen, and assist members through promoting member referrals, promotions and discounts. The Association also helps businesses with LGBTBE Certification which gives them access to the network of National LGBT Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC) Corporate Partners who are looking to do business with the LGBTQ business community.
That community spirit also led him to create the Community Leadership Council, which includes all of the LGBTQ+ focused nonprofits serving the region, with Palm Springs Pride President Ron deHarte in 2018. The mission is to “to support and enhance the business, political, cultural, and community life of the Palm Springs LGBTQ community.” During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Council played an important role in keeping the community connected. “We asked everyone we know to reach out to other non-profits, other people to check-in and be in touch,” recalled Powell. “We felt we needed that connection and we worked with the LGBTQ center here and all of our nonprofits here to make sure everyone felt connected. We played a role in that, but we really tried to make sure our businesses felt comfortable because a lot of them were suffering.”
Powell and the DBA continue to assist member businesses recover and build, most recently through a partnership with the NGLCC and Grubhub to provide grants to restaurants, bars that serve food and cafes. Last year $80,000 was distributed to LGBTQ and ally businesses for pandemic recovery. This year, Powell anticipates another $160,000 in grants will be distributed. He added, “We’re the only Chamber that gives direct grants through Grubhub and the national chamber. This year isn’t so much COVID — it’s more enhancing your business, what does your business need to better serve the customers and be more productive as we move forward.”
Through the DBA, Powell is able to work with many community organizations including DAP Health, Desert AIDS Walk, and Safe Schools Desert Cities, which provides LGBTQ+ youth programs and educational scholarships. It’s a program close to Powell’s heart. Through Safe Schools Desert Cities, area students can receive $1,000 or $1,500 scholarships to go toward tuition, books or other college expenses.
“My goal here is to see what we can do to boost these scholarships and to provide more help to some of these kids to really to be able to continue their education and, in many ways, ultimately to come back to the CV – stay in our communities,” explained Powell. “It’s a wonderful community. We can bring back some of these people who have been here all their lives and be able to serve their community with their skills and their professions.”
Safe Schools also works directly with Gay Straight Alliances (GSAs) at more than 20 area high schools and middle schools to ensure that students are protected as well as to provide support to LGBTQ+ students through on and off campus events. “It’s nice to see these kids feeling that comfortable to go to these things because back when I was 16, 17, I didn’t have that same support or anything then. I look at these kids now and say, ‘Thank you for being comfortable and being your true self.’”
The next big project for Powell and the DBA is hosting the 2024 NGLCC International Business & Leadership Conference in Palm Springs, with an estimated 1,600 participants. Powell projects it could bring $1.8 million of benefit to the local economy.
Powell’s move to the Coachella Valley is not only benefitting the local LGBTQ+ business community and allies, but also the next generation as he helps pave the way for their success.