Zach Wilcha already had a coffee meeting (although he drank water; he doesn’t like coffee) and a 20-minute phone call with an LGBT business owner by the time he biked to his glass-walled office at the Industrious Workspace on Broad Street on a recent Thursday morning.
Independence Business Alliance, the region’s LGBT chamber of commerce, moved to the trendy space in March. There’s a popcorn machine in the lobby on the 17th floor and succulents on the tables.
“These are my Melanie Griffith ‘Working Girl’ shoes that I wear on the commute,” Wilcha said as he pulled off his sneakers and stowed them under his desk. He pulled on some wingtips while he opened his email.
“I get a lot of correspondence,” he said. “Today, I want to catch up on finances.”
The IBA fiscal year ended June 30, soon after the 310 member businesses renewed their annual memberships.
It’s been a busy year for the IBA. The chamber, which had run with only a volunteer board since 2007, hired its first two full-time staffers, moved to a new building, refreshed its brand and started hosting events in the suburbs. The chamber serves 11 counties.
Amid that growth, the IBA has also been intimately involved in planning for the Democratic National Convention, so LGBT business owners could take advantage of the 50,000 people expected to flock to Philadelphia July 25-28.
“Philadelphia’s having a real moment,” Wilcha said. “It’s been fantastic, from the pope to the DNC. We really are on the world stage right now. As people come to recognize us as a world-class city, it’s important that LGBT people, and especially the LGBT business community, have a voice in Philadelphia’s growth.
“People didn’t necessarily frequent the businesses [when the pope came in September],” he added. “The DNC has been excited to share Philadelphia’s commerce with the world.”
Wilcha has served as a member of the Diversity Working Group with the local host committee since October, when he became the IBA’s first executive director. The group is nearing the end of its work to help the DNC with its commitment to spend 35 percent of its budget with diverse businesses.
Two LGBT-owned businesses have received contracts for work associated with the convention, one from Atlanta and one from Orlando.
Wilcha said the IBA would like the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau to adopt a commitment to diversity spending.
“If all conventions that came to town used that model,” he said, “it’d be a lot more business for LGBT processionals and it’d be a real feather in Philadelphia’s cap to make that happen.”
In the immediate future, Wilcha wanted to follow up with the DNC to find out if local LGBT businesspeople could be connected with attendees of the LGBT caucuses, which are open to the public during the convention.
Jess Gregan, who started with the IBA in May, said she’s heard Wilcha described as a duck and she agrees.
“His legs are always paddling beneath the surface, but on the surface everything runs smoothly,” she said. “Prior to me, Zach was doing everything. It’s been a transition to delegate some of the work. But we complement each other.”
As the chamber’s administrative assistant, Gregan attended an event organized by the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority while Wilcha continued planning for the packed week of the convention.
Member businesses should use demlist.com to connect with resources, Wilcha said, adding they could bring people into their establishments by using #DNCDeals on social media. Creative deals will be featured on phldnc.com.
In addition to serving as an institution where LGBT business owners can turn for DNC information, the IBA is also hosting its first mixer in Bucks County July 26 and connecting people for the counter-protest of the Westboro Baptist Church at the Mazzoni Center earlier that day.
Wilcha had that 20-minute phone call on his way to work with Christopher Whibley, a former board member who works for Elsevier. Whibley had texted earlier that morning to brainstorm ideas for the counter-protest. Wilcha said he planned to connect Whibley with Mazzoni’s director of development and resources with the Philadelphia Office of LGBT Affairs.
Rich Horrow, IBA’s board president, said Wilcha’s ability to develop new partnerships is pivotal to the chamber.
“He really increased our bandwidth,” Horrow said. “He’s grown our relationships in the community. He’s everywhere. It’s really about those relationships.”
When the board first sought to hire Wilcha, one reference gave a glowing account of his geniality.
Horrow remembered the reference saying, “Not only is Zach terrific in all his skill sets, but Zach is the one that everyone wants to grab a beer with after work.”
He has a dry sense of humor that always lightens the mood, Horrow added.
Wilcha is a veteran runner with three marathons, 17 half-marathons and seven Broad Street Runs under his belt. He also loves to read fiction, recently finishing “Beijing Comrades,” about a relationship between two men in the 1990s. It was banned in China and recently translated into English.
As the IBA heads into its 10th year, Wilcha has two big projects on the brain: increasing the racial diversity of the chamber’s members and starting an economic-empowerment initiative for the transgender community, which would educate businesses on hiring more transgender employees and connect transgender entrepreneurs. The work requires meeting with a lot of stakeholders, including LGBT people who may not yet be chamber members.
“Being able to be the person who’s able to take the time to listen to what others say has been instrumental in helping us grow,” Wilcha said.