President & CEO,
Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce
Jun 16, 2022
Brooklyn has entered the metaverse.
To be more specific, the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce has entered the metaverse. Seoul, South Korea, was by some accounts the first city to establish a virtual communication ecosystem in the so-called metaverse on January 1. But Brooklyn wasn’t far behind. Randy Peers, the president and CEO of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, signed an international memorandum of understanding with his counterpart in Seoul days later via an Oculus VR headset. Or rather, his avatar did.
“It was extraordinary,” Peers told Brooklyn Magazine. “I had to practice the day before, because when you put the Oculus on, you have this natural tendency to want to actually physically move, so you want to walk. But you’re in a room and you can bang into desks and stuff like that.”
This, clearly, is not your grandfather’s chamber. And Peers, a lifelong Brooklynite who grew up in Canarsie and lives in Marine Park, will be the first to tell you as much.
“Brooklyn when I was growing up — ’70s, ’80s, partially through the ’90s — was a typical story of an old manufacturing city in decline,” he said. “Just after 9/11 was this definitive time when Brooklyn started to turn a corner and march towards this progression of being the hippest, most happening place on the planet.”
It helped, he said, that the borough “had an identified brand. It was a negative brand at the time, but people knew what Brooklyn was. You have to convince people what was once dangerous became edgy and then ultimately became hip.”
In the post-9/11 era, the borough was able to attract development through real estate conversions (of occasionally questionable legal status, perhaps, but that’s a topic for another time). Toward the end of 2019, just months ahead of the pandemic, Peers took on the mantle of chamber leadership with the goal of modernizing the body. “Covid hit and there was no playbook for that, but we were able to really kick into action rather quickly and start to reimagine what our value proposition was throughout the crisis,” he said.
That expression, “value proposition,” is an interesting one. What is the role of a century-old chamber of commerce in 2022? Peers himself admits the whole idea of such an organization has a musty feel to it. “You ask a millennial: ‘Tell us about a chamber of commerce,’ they’ll say, ‘Oh yeah, my grandfather worked in finance for 30 years and when he retired, the chamber had a dinner and gave him a watch,’” he said. “All chambers do three basic things: promotion, support and advocacy.” Today, the core directive remains, though there is new technology to be leveraged in creative ways. (Hence, the metaverse.)
The Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, a certified Community Development Financial Institution, or CDFI, has also gotten into lending on Peers’ watch. One upshot of the pandemic, he said, has been the ability to grow that CDFI and, as of this writing, dole out nearly $600,000 in microloans. The chamber has also facilitated more than $6 million in lending through partners.
“We never had two nickels to lend before 2020,” he said.