Suppliers town hall meeting full of information

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From programs and services provided by the Community College of Allegheny County, legislative updates, how to acquire information on obtaining stimulus funding to obtaining financing, assessing current revenue streams and principles to operating a successful business, much information was to be had during the Western Pennsylvania Minority Supplier Development Council Supplier Diversity Town Hall Meeting.

With a special emphasis to help MBEs and corporations focus on the threats and opportunities they will face in 2010, to “adjust their headsets” and provide specific steps to take to grow their businesses, the affiliate of the National Minority Supplier Development Council hosted the event themed—“New Beginnings…Positioning for Success” Feb. 24 at the CCAC Student Services Center Auditorium. Sponsors included CCAC, PNC and RRI Energy, Inc.

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SHARING A WEALTH OF KNOWLEDGE—Addressing issues affecting businesses in today’s economy during the town hall meeting held by the Western Pennsylvania Minority Supplier Development Council were, from left to right: Mark Harrison, Vic Tatum, Craig Bingham, Carl Knoblock, Naomi Moye, Robert Stein and Darrell Freeman.

“These types of events are very important and about our mission to form linkages,” said WPMSDC board chairman, Gary Evens, senior vice president, Supply Chain Management of the PNC Financial Services Group. “Today is just an example of how minority businesses, corporations and government entities come together to share information. The WPMSDC mission is to create business opportunities for minority-owned enterprises by certifying and linking them to corporations and public agencies.”

Speakers for the morning included Dr. Alex Johnson, president of CCAC, Renee P. Aldrich; representing the Office of Jake Wheatley, Pennsylvania House of Representatives, Elizabeth Bowers of the Pennsylvania Department of General Services and Mark Harrison from NMSDC’s Business Consortium Fund. The keynote speaker was Nashville-based Darrell Freeman, chairman of Zycron, Inc.

Welcoming the attendees to the college, Johnson pointed out that the school is designed to help the community and stated that he is proud of their association with WPMSDC.

Aldrich stressed that Wheatley is committed to making sure that women and minorities, veterans and disadvantaged entrepreneurs receive their fair share of state and government contracts. She mentioned that he introduced House Resolution 78, the impetus behind the creation of a 59- page report that listed four major recommendations: (1). Having all state agencies reserve 10 percent of their procurement and contracting dollars for small businesses with 250 or fewer employees, including but not limited to minority-owned, women-owned and disadvantaged-owned business enterprises (MWEs, WBEs and DBEs). (2). Having state agencies, boards and commissions establish an overall target of 25 percent of procurement and construction dollars going to MWEs, WBEs and DBEs. (3). Requiring that prime contractors doing business with the state pay subcontractors within five days. And the fourth point to create greater uniformity and consistency in the state certification process for MWEs, WBEs and DBEs by having the state Department of General Services accept certification from the Pennsylvania Unified Certification Program and having local governments and school districts accept those certifications as sufficient.

Government funding and money from the stimulus package was addressed by Bowers. Indicating that contracts are available, she provided a website for information (www.dgs.state.pa.us/bcabd). She emphasized the importance of taking time to research and go through the site. “There are hundreds of agencies listed with changes taking place every day,” she said.

Available to WPMSDC certified MBEs, the Business Consortium Fund, Inc. offers access to capital to ethnic minority-owned businesses. Explained by Harrison as a nonprofit financial services program, it was created by NMSDC certified minority businesses across America through a network of local participating banks and NMSDC affiliates. The fund provides access to capital exclusively to those that have supplier/vender relationships with NMSDC national and regional corporate members and are experiencing difficulty obtaining financing through conventional channels on reasonable terms. Harrison also pointed out that the BCF also offers professional consulting services. He encouraged participants that are interested in learning more to visit the website at http://www.bcfcapital.com.

Excited about the panel and the vibrant conversation derived from it, WPMSDC president and CEO, Alexander “Nick” Nichols said the survival techniques and business strategies offered by the panelists was invaluable. Consisting of some local minority business owners, the panel included Craig Bingham, president of DCI Logistics; Naomi Moye, president of Abraham Group; Vic Tatum, president of Kensington Capital Corp.; Carl Knoblock, Director of the Pittsburgh SBA; Robert Stein, manager of the Information Technology Program at the University of Pittsburgh Small Business Development Center; Darrell Freeman, CEO of Zycron Inc. and Harrison.

The panel, mixed with comments from the audience, addressed issues on knowing your break-even point, assessing your current revenue stream, cutting cost to postpone expenditures, forming alliances to pursue business that you cannot attract independently, staying out of debt and if borrowing is necessary, being sure about how much you need, how you will spend it and how you will retire the debt.

The program ended with remarks from Freeman, owner of an information technology services and solutions firm. Through his wisdom, he provided principles to operating and sustaining a successful business during these current economical times. He advised having the correct vision for your company, to be prepared and hire the right people to assist in attaining the vision, to understand that there will be obstacles along the way, and to use common sense all while maintaining your integrity.

Freeman says he does not tie into the concept of a disadvantaged business. “My business mindset is that I go out for the total project and being about providing a good service,” he said. Claiming that he started his business in 1991 with one person in a small room using his credit cards, he says now he has 250 people across the country and conducts $2.16 million in business. Recently completing a two-term service as chairman of the Nashville Chamber of Commerce, he also is the co-founder of two other businesses: Reliant Bank and Pinnacle Construction Partners.

Pleased with the turnout and results of what he hopes will be an annual event, Nichols says minority-owned businesses are a rapidly growing segment of the market and will be a driving force in our nation’s economic recovery. “Shrinking budgets, layoffs and general belt tightening are in the headlines and on the minds of people across the country. In the current economy, these pressures can make organizations of any size feel squeezed. That’s why it is important that the WPMSDC brings together entrepreneurs, corporate diversity practitioners, government agencies and college- and university-based participants to network, build synergies and work together to survive the economic change.”

Around for 38 years, the WPMSDC is part of the NMSDC Network, which includes 36 affiliated regional councils, matches more than 17,000 certified minority businesses (Asian, Black, Hispanic and Native-American) with its more than 3,500 corporate members.

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