Minority Business event recognizes achievements, promotes growth

October 12, 2009
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On Oct. 26, the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce will recognize three local businesses at its 28th annual Minority Business Celebration.

The winners of the three awards are: Kennedy Management Resources, Minority Business of the Year; Management Business Solutions, Minority Business Entrepreneur of the Year; and Erhardt Construction, Minority Business Advocate of the Year.

“It’s a recognition and an appreciation, as well, for the minority business community, looking at the value and assets that it provides, as well as jobs that it provides within the community,” said Sonya Hughes, vice president, diversity initiatives and programs for GRACC.

“There can be some unique circumstances and experiences that minority businesses have that majority businesses do not have. To recognize that, to elevate that, to celebrate that helps to promote the growth, as well as utilization of these businesses.”

Keynote speaker for the event is Andrea Harris, president and co-founder of the North Carolina Institute of Minority Economic Development.

“She has done some interesting and strategic work that we believe we can learn from in Grand Rapids. (NCIMED) works historically with underutilized businesses, and it helps that business understand how to access affordable capital, expand their market opportunities, stabilize their internal management control systems,” said Hughes. “They also help them with technical assistance, education and how to position their business for growth and expansion.”

The Grand Rapids Chamber and the Minority Business Council, which is made up of volunteers within the Grand Rapids business community, are trying to find ways to address those topics.

 “How do we help business grow and expand their position in the market? We want to learn from experts that are doing well,” she said. “What are you doing? How have you done it? Is this a new innovation that we can apply to Grand Rapids?”

Those are the questions Hughes expects Harris will address.

“She’s going to speak about growing a minority business to the next level — whatever the business sees themselves as: if they see themselves as an entrepreneur in-home business and are wishing to grow to a location outside of their home with a staff of five, or it might be that they are now employing 50 and are looking at employing 200 and going after bigger contracts.”

 “For all companies you see these challenges. You have to have access to market opportunities, whether you are trying to figure out how to do something at a retail level or trying to get in some major corporate door,” Harris told the Business Journal last week. “Too often what we see is, if you’re trying to do business, with the corporate sectors that do business-to-business then there is the challenge of how much time and resources must be devoted to opening access to just that market opportunity.”

Harris also said there is a problem of undercapitalization. In response, NCIMED works with financial institutions to prepare packages that allow companies to grow. Harris said there are other steps her organization takes to help overcome these hurdles as well.

“We work closely with chambers of commerce, the National Minority Supplier Development Council (and) in close partnership with our state department of commerce,” she said. “We also work with corporate leaders who take the lead for us to help build relationships with their peers.”

The chamber’s Minority Business Celebration has had sound support.

“We have a very strong following for this event,” Hughes said. “We have attendance by participants that we don’t usually see in some of our other events.”

While the event may be growing, Hughes said the amount of minority-owned business in the Grand Rapids community is shrinking.

“We have noticed that we are losing minority-owned business in the community. We are seeing fewer that have responded to being listed in our Minority Business Directory,” said Hughes. “We’ve been told by some of our minority-owned business members that they are also noticing some of their peers going out of business due to the economy.”

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