For 33 years, the Western Pennsylvania Minority Supplier Development Council, formerly the Pittsburgh Regional Purchasing Council has sponsored the Business Opportunity Fair. This year the 34th annual confab was predicted to be one of the best Opportunity Fair events hosted by the WPMSDC.

LET THE SHOW BEGIN—Affiliates of the Western Pennsylvania Minority Supplier Development Council cut the ribbon to start the Business Opportunity Fair at the entrance of the Monroeville Convention Center.

Emphasizing the focal point of the organization and conference, Gary L. Evans, chairman of the WPMSDC board, pointed out that the purpose of the day was for participants to make new contacts and connections.

“Today is about building business relationships between minority-owned businesses, major corporations and public agencies,” he explained.

The theme, “Promoting Diverse Business Opportunities During Economic Change” for what the group calls western Pennsylvania’s largest minority trade show addressed shrinking budgets, layoffs and general belt-tightening challenges business owners are facing.

“In times like these is when networking is most vital,” said Alexander “Nick” Nichols, WPMSDC president and CEO. “The Business Opportunity Fair provided attendees an opportunity to share their ideas, products and services with a highly diverse audience.” He also pointed out that the activities of the day presented a unique opportunity for organizations to reach established minority-business owners seeking to grow their enterprises. He said it was a way to build relationships with current and potential suppliers and clients; it assisted in building a corporate brand with a fiercely loyal sector of the business community; and demonstrated social responsibility through a strong commitment to a diverse supplier base.

Activities of the day included the kick-off breakfast with the address provided by Esther Bush, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh, a luncheon, with a speech given by Jerome Bettis of Jerome Bettis Enterprises, the Business Opportunity Fair, relevant seminars and a closing reception.

Intertwining her message with services provided by the Urban League with the responsibilities of minority businesses, Bush touched on how her organization is working to empower its constituents through its programming. Existing as a one stop resource, Bush said the organization is following the mandate handed down from the national chapter to work toward preparing every child to be ready for college or work life, to provide safe and affordable housing, affordable health care and access to fair living wages.

A fan of the WPMSDC mission, Bush mentioned that her organization, which serves 36,000 people through 29 programs, also works toward building links with corporations by providing companies with a skilled labor force. “This opportunity fair is very timely because minority businesses will be the driving force to the economy’s recovery.”

The Marcellus Shale Project, in Bush’s opinion, “is a gold mine to this area. It is small businesses’ tomorrow and I am excited and pumped up about it,” she said. Marcellus Shale is said to contain an estimated undiscovered resource of about 1.9 trillion cubic feet of gas. She suggests going to the Allegheny Conference on Community Development to find out more information on how to gain business from the project.

Introduced as a true leader and good friend by Charles Sanders, CEO of Urban Lending Solutions, luncheon speaker Jerome Bettis encouraged the audience to take advantage of opportunities. Taking advantage of opportunities throughout his career he said has always created additional prospects and positive situations for him. “Making good on opportunities brings forth other opportunities,” he said. As a mandate to small businesses he suggested that an MBWBE be prepared to take advantage of opportunities at all times but at the same time be ready to provide opportunities.

Bettis, a retired NFL athlete and former Pittsburgh Steeler, has many accomplishments within the sports arena. As a businessman, in 1997 he established Jerome Bettis Enterprises, a full-service sports marketing firm. He is the founder of a nonprofit foundation, the Bus Stops Here Foundation, and has developed a partnership with the pharmaceutical company, GlaxoSmithKline where they have teamed up to start an asthma awareness campaign that focuses on asthma education.

More than 50 major corporations and public agencies participated as an exhibitor and approximately 300 attendees participated in the event throughout the day. Workshops that took place were Green Sustainability, Impact of Information Technology on Small Business, Hard Hat Forum-Construction Bid Opportunities for 2010 and Best Practices for Corporate Supplier Diversity programs. Former Pittsburgh Steeler Edmund Nelson and a current Steelers analyst for KDKA TV Channel 2, served as this year’s emcee for the breakfast and luncheon.

“We are pleased with this year’s event,” said Nichols. Concurring with Evans, he classified it as the best one within its history. The feedback from the minority business owners is that they are already following up with the many leads and connections received from the Opportunity Fair.

Nichols also considers their new location as an added bonus to the success of the program. “The Monroeville Convention Center and Doubletree Hotel was a perfect venue for us. People felt it was accessible, liked the free parking and enjoyed the amenities.”

An affiliate of the National Minority Supplier Development Council, the group’s focus is to build upon business relationships between minority-owned businesses, major corporations and public agencies. Chartered in 1972, the NMSDC has provided a direct link between corporate America and minority-owned businesses. With its national office based in New York City, the council is considered one of the country’s leading business membership organizations. NMSDC’s network includes 38 regional councils country wide and has 3,500 corporate members. The regional councils certify and match more than 15,000 minority-owned businesses (Asian, Black, Hispanic and Native American) with member corporations in the market to purchase goods and services.

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