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Google Inc. and the oldest trade association for black businesses in the United States are partnering to provide training programs, mentorship and technology access to small businesses.

The team-up seeks to close the digital divide for business owners of color, said leaders of the Detroit-based National Business League and the tech company on Monday during a panel discussion in Google's new digs at Little Caesars Arena.

"Today's announcement is a critical juncture for black business," said Ken Harris, president of the National Business League. "For us to keep in a marketplace that is changing tremendously, technology is not only important but critical to black-owned businesses' development."

Combining Google's world-leading cloud-based technology and knowledge with the league's pipeline of entrepreneurs seeks to accelerate the growth of black businesses across the country.

The partnership will provide businesses with a free website, domain and email address as well as free search engine optimization tools. They also will have full access to Google's cloud-based G Suite, which includes Google Docs, Sheets, Calendar and more.

Programming with both free and paid workshops will start in January. Similar initiatives are launching in Atlanta, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.

Harris said those resources could help businesses to reach a new national and international audience. He said the 118-year-old organization founded by Booker T. Washington also will be able to better support the next generation of entrepreneurs across its 365 leagues. Of the approximately 2.6 million black businesses in the country, he said, 90 percent of them have five employees or fewer.

"Many don't have the technological infrastructure," Harris said. "Having access to this platform will help to pull them out from marginalization and isolation."

Chris Genteel, Google's director of community and business inclusion, said the partnership is an extension of Google's work to support black businesses. In 2010, Google was a founding partner of the Michigan Black Chamber of Commerce, which acquired the National Business League last year.

"Google's mission is to organize the world's information, making it usable and accessible," Genteel said. "We can't get there without the black community. Period."

He said the partnership will connect businesses with Google's products as well as provide opportunities for them to explore supplier partnerships.

"I'm shocked this is happening," said Greg Bowens, president of the Grosse Pointe/Harper Woods NAACP and the owner of Bowens & Co., a public relations leadership coaching and business development firm. "Technology is only as good as the people it helps. Many businesses don't have the money to pay to use these technologies and to educate themselves on them."

Terry Willis, owner of TerryWorldWide LLC, a Detroit-based distributor, said in the past few months, he has begun exploring Google Analytics and other social media resources available for businesses.

"It's helping me toward putting my business online," Willis said. "It's not easy. I'm excited to have the people here at Google to work with."

bnoble@detroitnews.com

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