Minority Business
The Competitive Advantage

October 2, 2006
Text Size:

Who you know: It's a time-honored business-to-business tradition that works as well as the "word of mouth" approach to marketing — or not. In fact such B-to-B practices limit the practioners to a very small universe of clients and providers, a practice often more costly than the work of research based on product quality and pricing. The limitation especially has excluded the wide world of minority businesses and businesses owned by women. The national celebration of Minority Business Month which begins today and its tribute in the metro area offers business owners opportunity to climb out of the box.

Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, the first business group to launch such historic programs as the Institute for Healing Racism, is celebrating 25 years of Minority Business programming, and candidly confesses the first several years of inclusion were more akin to talking rather than "walking" the talk. Not far different from the three levels of national business participation, as identified by the GRACC keynote speaker this week, Luke Visconti. In a recent online interview with Business Week, Visconti said, "Apart from a very few companies, diversity is being handled in a very loose way. It's not being handled as part of a strategy or in a very disciplined way, and that's why you're seeing the problems. There are three levels, and the largest [group is at] zero. At 20 percent of companies, they believe in diversity as the right thing to do, and that has nothing to do with business. The right thing to do isn't a compelling reason, for the most part. For 5 percent of companies, they understand it's the right thing to do for business; it's a competitive advantage."

And that's the point the national tribute underscores.

Another long B-to-B tradition is that of mentoring, and it is that aspect of minority business advocacy that is regarded as the most important in growing West Michigan companies. Nolan Groce, GRCC 1998 Minority Businessperson of the Year, notes in this week's Minority Business supplement, "I've had lots of people who have stepped up and helped me over the years as mentors. Mentors will lend you a hand. You can go to lunch and talk to them and ask questions like 'How would you …?' or 'How did you …?' That can be a much bigger asset than a dollar amount."

Groce even suggests that tax credits be awarded to businesses initiating such business-to-business practices: "That way, they are encouraging a majority of firms to get involved by giving out training and knowledge, which will more effectively build up their supplier base. If that happens, the government wins, because those people start paying taxes. … It would be a situation where everybody benefits, from the company to the supplier to the federal government."

Is it necessary, or have programs like national Minority Business Month guided companies slowly into the realization that good business practices in the "flat world" are inclusive, and rewarded with profit gains? Visconti says he still awaits the dawn: "Companies aren't treating this subject with the same seriousness as they treat accountancy."

Looming labor force shortages underscore the fact that business can't afford to ignore the burgeoning minority and woman-owned business sectors. Then again, decades of partnering among those in the minority business sector could become ensconced in the easy, but less profitable tradition of doing business with who they know.    

Editor's Picks

Comments powered by Disqus